Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Kazakhstan

Overview: Kazakhstan continued to express interest in expanding counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, particularly in countering violent extremism. The government has long feared the potential return of foreign terrorist fighters from Iraq and Syria, but two domestic attacks in 2016 refocused government attention on homegrown terrorists. Despite concerns from some outside experts that the government’s “law enforcement-first” approach to countering radicalism could backfire absent increased attention to other factors driving “extremism.” Kazakhstan has increased restrictions on religious freedom for both minority religious groups and its Muslim-majority population, for the stated purpose of combating what it considers “extremism.”

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Kazakhstan has a comprehensive counterterrorism legal framework. It is illegal for citizens to fight in foreign wars. The government takes a two-pronged approach to the few returning ISIS fighters, pursuing rehabilitation for some while arresting and prosecuting others.

On July 11, the president signed a law that allows the government to deprive Kazakhstanis of citizenship if they are convicted of a range of “grave terrorism and extremism-related crimes,” and for other vague crimes like causing ‘grave harm to the vital interests of the state.’

Law enforcement units demonstrated a strong capacity to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. The government’s counterterrorism plan allowed for enhanced interagency cooperation, coordination, and information sharing, but the extent to which this actually occurred remained unknown. There were four special counterterrorism detachments under the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and one under the National Security Committee (KNB), the main security and intelligence agency. Before and during EXPO 2017 in Astana, security services bolstered resources and capacity to protect soft targets.

Kazakhstan’s Border Guard Service (BGS), part of the KNB, uses specialized passport control equipment, allowing officers to check for fraudulent documents. BGS officers receive risk-profiling training by the U.S. Department of State to identify traffickers and terrorists, as well as K9 unit training for counterterrorism operations. In recent years, Kazakhstan has strengthened security on its southern border by adding radar systems, inspection equipment and vehicles, and specialized mobile inspection groups. The government proactively worked to prevent Kazakhstanis from traveling to fight abroad in Syria and Iraq, in keeping with UN Security Council resolution 2178 (2014). The KNB announced in October that no Kazakhstanis had left for conflict zones in 2017.

Courts delivered numerous sentences for promotion of “extremism” and terrorism, and recruitment and plotting terrorist acts, although few involved allegations or threats of violence. KNB Deputy Chairman Nurgali Bilisbekov announced December 12 that security services had prevented 11 “terrorist attacks” in 2017, although he later clarified this number included plots to travel to conflict zones. While the government does not release annual statistics of counterterrorism-related arrests, media sources routinely reported on the topic. For example, press reports indicated that in November, the KNB arrested four people, alleging they had amassed weapons and had ISIS-propaganda. However, some cases the government identified as “extremism” were unrelated to terrorism, such as the six-year prison sentence handed down to an Almaty man charged only with having Arabic-language songs praising Allah on his cell phone. We refer you to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and Report on International Religious Freedom for 2017 for further information.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Kazakhstan belongs to the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The government criminalizes terrorist financing in accordance with international standards and freezes and confiscates known terrorist assets without delay. The government monitors and regulates money/value transfer and other remittance services and requires the collection of data for wire transfers (i.e. requires originator and recipient name, address, and account number). Additionally, authorities routinely distributed the names of organizations listed in the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime to financial institutions. The Prosecutor General’s Office Crime Statistics Committee reported nine terrorist financing cases were transferred to the court system, but information is not available on convictions. Kazakhstan’s unregulated financial sector is relatively small. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): Kazakhstan is still implementing a five-year state program on fighting religious extremism and terrorism that was adopted in 2013. This program is not the equivalent of a national CVE strategy, and the program relies heavily on the government-affiliated Spiritual Association of Muslims in Kazakhstan to promote what the government calls “traditional Islam.”

The Government of Kazakstan’s CVE initiatives focused on preventing “radicalization,” with efforts to educate and provide alternatives to youth through social programs and economic opportunities. Initiatives to build rule of law are lacking and the government has taken steps to restrict space for independent civil society groups while also funding several CVE-focused non-governmental organizations. Religious experts from the government-controlled Committee for Religious Affairs and regional offices reach out to at-risk youth directly. The government continued rehabilitation and reintegration work with individuals convicted of what the government considered “extremism”-related offenses, and their relatives, although the results of the nascent programs were still unclear. The government focused its prevention efforts on detention and prosecution of recruiters and proselytizers sharing what the government deemed “extremist” ideas. Most convicted recruiters were placed in general-regime penal colonies for three to six years.

The government censors online content in an effort to reduce “extremist” messaging. Religious leaders reached out to youth via official websites such as E-Islam. Government-controlled religious experts created groups on social networks such as Facebook and VKontakte, where they posted information and answered user questions about “religious extremism.” Committee for Religious Affairs officials provided training for local imams, non-governmental organizations, and the media.

Regional and International Cooperation: Kazakhstan participates in counterterrorism activities within the Collective Security Treaty Organization, which has established a joint task force for preventing the propagation of terrorist and “extremist” ideas online. Kazakhstan is a member of the Community of Independent States’ Anti-Terrorism Center, which hosts a data bank of banned terrorist and extremist organizations accessible to law enforcement and financial intelligence bodies of the member states. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the Committee for Religious Affairs cooperated with the OSCE on countering violent extremism and terrorism workshops. In December, Kazakhstan co-sponsored UN Security Council resolution 2396 on returning and relocating foreign terrorist ‎fighters.