Security Challenges in Kazakhstan: Addressing Terrorism at Home and Abroad

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Kazakhstan remained awake to the potential for both externally directed and homegrown terrorist episodes. The government expressed widespread civil unrest in early January 2022 as a terrorist attack. The government persisted in rehabilitation and reintegration measures for Kazakh foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and associated family members repatriated from Syria and Iraq. 

The unrest in 2022 included armed aggression against government buildings and security servicemembers by banned groups aligned with elites opposed to the current government. At least 238 individuals were killed because of the violence and the government’s response. Trials against the charged Kazakh citizen organizers of the violence were ongoing at year’s end.

Kazakhstan has a comprehensive CounterTerrorism legal framework. 

The prime CT agency is the Committee for National Security (KNB), which corresponds to efforts at the central and local levels. In 2022, the government completed a five-year program to counter religious “extremism” and terrorism. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors continued to have broad intentions to determine what qualifies as terrorism or “extremism.” 

Kazakhstan prohibits its citizens from fighting in foreign wars. The government has indicted fighters and others suspected of active participation in terrorism in Iraq and Syria while aiding other returnees with reintegrating into their communities, including by delivering access to state-supported theological counseling and psychological, social, and educational benefits. From 2019 to 2021, Kazakhstan returned more than 600 of its nationals, primarily women and children, from Iraq and Syria. 

Law enforcement units established a solid capacity to detect, deter, and respond to terrorist incidents. The KNB said it disrupted three terrorist attacks in 2022 and contained 134 foreign citizens involved in terrorism or religious “extremism” from entering the country. The government sentenced 56 persons for terrorism or “extremism” related crimes. Local investigators have estimated that up to 90 percent of charges filed under laws against terrorism and “extremism” do not involve actual or planned violent acts and, in some cases, appear to be connected to political opposition activity. Courts also persisted in delivering harsh sentences for the promotion of “extremism” online.  

Kazakhstan’s Border Guard Service and other agencies proactively functioned to prevent Kazakhs and foreign citizens with suspected terrorist connections from traveling to, from, or through Kazakhstan. This included using specialized equipment to avoid suspicious or unauthorized travelers at official and unofficial air, land, and sea crossing pinpoints. Through a 10-year agreement with the multinational security technology company IDEMIA, Kazakhstan has been operating since 2018 to install and operate an API and PNR system to screen travelers.  

Kazakhstan is also a member of the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (the EAG), and its FIU, the Financial Monitoring Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a member of the Egmont Group. In 2022, Kazakhstan revised its Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism law in practice for an EAG mutual evaluation scheduled for completion in 2023. 

The new amendments need legal entities to disclose their beneficial owners; improve authorities’ ability to freeze funds and other support of entities associated with the financing of terrorism, “extremism,” or weapons of mass destruction expansion; and formalize practices for documenting entities to monitor activities for money-laundering and terrorist-financing risks. 

Kazakhstan also continued measures to promulgate officially endorsed versions of Islam to youth and deliver alternatives to “extremism” through social programs and economic opportunities. Performing with religious experts, psychologists, and theologians, the Ministry of Information and Social Development guided direct outreach in communities nationwide; maintained an educational website on religion, state policy, and terrorism prevention; and operated a nationwide hotline offering consultations on religious questions.  

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