Gunmen attack gun shops and army unit in Aktobe (June 5, 2016)

AKTOBE, KAZAKHSTAN — ISIS had an impact on dozens of nations around the world including ones you may have thought relatively immune from terrorism.

Quick! Can you find Kazakhstan on a map? Did you know that this Central Asian nation (hint: it is in Central Asia if you still have your map out) ranks 9th in the world in terms of area? Seriously, it does!

Kazakhstan was of course part of the Soviet Union for half a century and became independent in 1991. Independence did not bring democracy, however. Its first ‘president’, Nursultan Nazarbayev, held ‘office’ for almost three decades. Amazingly, the country’s parliament voted in 2007 to allow him, but no one else, to stand for as many elections as he wanted (successors were allowed one five-year term). Sounds fair to me – not!

This country was also a significant provider of what we call ‘foreign fighters’ to the self-styled ‘Caliphate’ of Islamic State (ISIS), ranking 18th in the world (one estimate says 300 left, others say it could be as high as 1,000). The current government, like many, many others, is struggling with what to do with those crying to come home.

Nursultan Nazarbayev statue, Ankara | Timon91 | Flickr
Come to me all who seek…whatever

One of the reasons why states are hedging when it comes to repatriating its terrorist citizens who made ‘unfortunate’ choices is the risk that returnees could, at a minimum, radicalise other members of their societies, or, at a maximum, carry out terrorist attacks. One such attack took place in June 2016.

ISIS-linked terrorists killed twenty people in attacks on two gun shops and an army unit in north-western Kazakhstan: four of the attackers were killed in shootouts with police, but some managed to escape in the city of Aktobe. That city was the site of the country’s first suicide attack in 2011.

Suspected Islamist militants have killed six people in attacks on two gun shops and an army unit in north-western Kazakhstan, officials say.

The attackers first targeted the shops, killing a vendor, a security guard and a visitor, then reportedly seized a bus to break through the gates of the army unit, killing three servicemen. At least nine soldiers were injured during the attacks. One of the men blamed by authorities for the attack had posted a video online that was sympathetic to ISIS.

When people wonder why we are not ‘taking care of our own’ when it comes to terrorists who kill and maim abroad and who have decided they now want to come back, the attack in Kazakhstan should serve as a good indication why (even if this specific attack was not perpetrated by ‘returnees’).

Phil Gurski
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