Probe follows Kazakh unrest, with foreign links suspected

Security forces stand guard in front of the city hall in Almaty, Kazakhstan on early morning of Jan 5, 2022. (Photo/Xinhua)

Investigations are being carried out into terrorist attacks that swept Kazakhstan and external intervention cannot be ruled out, the Central Asian nation's top envoy in China has said, as the situation stabilizes and the security forces restore control.

Kazakhstan had suffered attacks that broke out suddenly and simultaneously in many places across the country, with thousands of law enforcement personnel, military police and medical staff targeted.

Ambassador Gabit Koishibayev told a news conference on Monday in Beijing that a preliminary probe indicates that the attacks were well-planned and it is highly possible that the rioters were trained by foreigners.

Government buildings in several Kazakh cities were briefly captured or torched last week as initially peaceful protests against fuel price increases became violent in the worst bout of unrest in the oil-rich country's post-Soviet history.

But it was hard to identify for now any specific extremist groups and foreign forces behind the riots as the investigations are still underway, Koishibayev said.

Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Monday that his country had defeated an attempted coup d'etat during the violence.

During a videoconference of leaders from the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, which assisted by sending in troops, Tokayev's Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said the forces would leave as soon as their mission ended.

"Of course, we understand the events in Kazakhstan are not the first and far from the last attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of our states from the outside," Putin said. "The measures taken by the CSTO have clearly shown we will not allow the situation to be rocked at home."

Tokayev last week sacked the government and declared a state of emergency in the nation of 19 million. He also asked the CSTO to send in peacekeepers to guard strategic places.

Attempted coup d'etat

Tokayev told the meeting that armed militants had used the backdrop of protests to try to seize power.

"The main goal was obvious: The undermining of the constitutional order, the destruction of government institutions and the seizure of power. It was an attempted coup d'etat," he said.

In a statement, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry linked the violence to extremist groups.

"As the events in Almaty and several other regions of the country have shown, Kazakhstan has been subjected to armed aggression by well-coordinated terrorist groups trained abroad," the ministry said.

"According to preliminary data, the attackers include individuals who have military combat zone experience in the ranks of radical groups."

Koishibayev said social order has been restored after the government took firm measures to deal with the unrest, adding that an anti-terrorist operation is still proceeding in some areas of the country.

As of Sunday, the ambassador said, about 2,000 CSTO peacekeepers had completed their deployment in Kazakhstan.

Many residents of Almaty credited the CSTO as a stabilizing force.

Tokayev announced on Tuesday that the CSTO will start pulling out its troops from Kazakhstan in two days after completing its mission. He also appointed a new prime minister.

On Monday, Koishibayev urged the international community to listen to the official channels on the attacks, and that the government would release more information once the investigations are completed.

As of Sunday, according to the country's Health Ministry, at least 164 people had been killed during the violence.

About 8,000 people have been detained, Koishibayev said.

The figures included "a substantial number of foreign nationals", Reuters reported, citing local media.

The Interior Ministry, quoted on Sunday by Kazakh media, put the property damage from the riots at around $199 million.