Suspected Islamist militants gunned down on Monday at least four policemen and one civilian in Kazakhstan’s financial capital Almaty, security and hospital sources said.
The incident echoes similar scenes of bloodshed in another Kazakh city just a month earlier.
The officers were killed in gun battles with two unidentified gunmen inside and outside a police station in central Almaty, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
While fleeing from the police station, one of the gunmen shot and killed a local resident and then hijacked his car, the statement added.
The attack began when one gunman shot at a duty officer and took his machine gun, the police said. The man then fled in the car, shooting at a traffic police crew and wounding two before he was detained 1.6 kms away. Police identified him as a 27-year-old former convict who was wanted for the murder of a woman last weekend. The other man remained at large. Police did not elaborate on the role of another gunman but said the search was on.
The attackers targeted a district police station and an office of the KNB state security service. Another shootout occurred on a busy central street where police wounded and detained one of the attackers.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev called the attacks a terrorist act and ordered tighter security in public areas.
“Law enforcement agencies are working right now to find out who the culprits were and what goals they pursued,” he said in a statement carried by his press office Monday evening.
The shootings will stir up fears of a growing Islamist threat to the oil-producing nation of 18 million people. Last month, men the authorities said were ISIS supporters attacked gun stores and a military facility, killing seven.
Nazarbayev said the security services were working to identify Monday’s attackers, who are believed to be ISIS militants.
Thousands of nationals from Central Asian nations are known to be fighting alongside ISIS terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq, and the authorities have long warned they could return and carry out attacks on home soil.
Kazakhstan is far more prosperous than its post-Soviet neighbors and has been ruled with a firm hand by Nazarbayev since 1989.
But the fall in global oil prices has hit its economy hard and there have been rare outbreaks of violence and public protests since April, initially caused by discontent over proposed land reforms but swiftly attracting others unhappy about wider issues.