Police kill 9 in Kazakhstan shootout
Police killed nine suspected militants in a shootout near Kazakhstan's largest city today during a dawn raid on an armed group linked to a house explosion that killed eight people a month ago.
The prosecutor-general's office, announcing the "special operation" on its website www.prokuror.kz. did not identify those killed, but said the police had met armed resistance when they tried to make arrests in a village 25km outside Almaty, the financial capital of Central Asia's largest economy.
One policeman was wounded and local residents had been evacuated beforehand, it said.
The suspects had been linked to a house fire in the same district on July 11th which killed eight people, it said, an incident which led president Nursultan Nazarbayev to issue a sharp rebuke to his security forces.
Police said the fire was caused by an explosion and later found guns, ammunition and religious literature in an adjacent garage. An investigation classified the incident as "preparation for terrorism".
Kazakhstan had until last year avoided outbursts of militancy seen in other parts of Central Asia, an ex-Soviet region to the north of Afghanistan.
But a string of blasts and shootouts have fractured an image of stability in the oil-rich country of 16.7 million people.
The July 11th incident prompted Nazarbayev, who has ruled Kazakhstan for more than two decades, to rebuke his secret police for security lapses and call for an overhaul of the country's counter-terrorism strategy.
Security forces have been the main target of previous attacks. The deadliest happened last November, when an Islamist militant killed five policemen and two other people in a rampage through the southern city of Taraz.
Two police officers were killed in December in a shootout with suspected militants in another village outside Almaty.