November 15, 2011
Jund al Khilafah Targets Kazakhstan
On October 31, a militant Islamist group acting on a previously issued threat against the Kazakh government launched an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in western Kazakhstan. The attack portends the potential emergence of a hitherto unknown terrorist network operating in Kazakhstan as part of the global jihad movement.
The al Zahir Baibars Battalion (ZBB) of Jund al Khilafah (JaK) claimed responsibility for the October 31 attack in Atyrau, which targeted provincial government installations. Both the “battalion” that carried out the attack against President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s government, ZBB, and the broader umbrella group, JaK, have surfaced in recent months. JaK, also identified as “Kateeba Jund al Khilafah,” released in September and October 2011 two videos of a rocket attack it claimed to have conducted on an American military base in Khost, Afghanistan on July 11. In late October, the ZBB issued its first direct threat against the Kazakh government. In the video statement, delivered in Russian with Arabic subtitles, the group said, “We direct our message to the government of Kazakhstan about the recent incidents in the west of the country, and about the new laws that ban the headscarf and prayer. We call upon you to abolish these laws, and we also demand that you offer an apology to the people for that mistake.” Ten days later, the group launched the Atyrau attack, citing it as a warning to the government and vowing to initiate more violence in the future.
Although the October 31 attack is the first attributed to the ZBB wing of JaK, several Islamist terror attacks have been reported across Kazakhstan this year. In May, the first suicide bomber in Kazakhstan infiltrated the state security services office in the northwestern city of Aqtobe. In July, a group of militants attacked a police checkpoint in the same region, killing several policemen. On November 12, a suicide bomber killed five security services members and two civilians before detonating an explosives vest in southern Kazakhstan near the Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan borders. There were no terrorist attacks reported in Kazakhstan during 2010 by comparison.
Rawil Kusaynov is the emir of the ZBB, but it is unclear who leads the JaK. Local authorities in Kazakhstan have said that JaK’s Kazakh leadership is based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Kusaynov has refused to name the overall JaK leader in interviews, but he has discussed the group’s ideology and its role in the broader jihad movement. JaK, according to Kusaynov, “is a group of mujahideen of different nationalities united by the desire to work together to support the causes of Muslims and to remove oppression from them everywhere. Their goal is to empower Islam and break the backs of the oppressors from amongst the rulers and the disbelieving powers that occupy the lands of Muslims. The Brigade is composed of several battalions, most of which work in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world.” Kusaynov also identified Central Asia, Yemen, and North Africa as the future core of the Islamic caliphate that the broader jihadist movement seeks to establish. Kusaynov has said that his ZBB “battalion,” consisting mostly of Kazakh fighters, is operationally oriented toward Kazakhstan but maintains “many military activities on the fighting lines in Afghanistan in collaboration with the rest of the [JaK] battalions.” Kusaynov has not identified which particular terrorist groups active inside Afghanistan the JaK is collaborating with.
In 2006, the Kazakh government updated its list of banned terrorist organizations to include several regional and international groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Hizb ut Tahrir. Hizb ut Tahrir, which has followers in Kazakhstan, has adopted “anti-Semitic, anti-Western ideology” and “has publicly called on Muslims to travel to Iraq and Afghanistan to fight Coalition Forces.” The IMU, an al Qaeda-linked terrorist group active in Afghanistan, has previously operated in neighboring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, although Kazakh authorities detained a network of militants inside Kazakhstan in 2004 belonging to an IMU splinter group, the Islamic Jihad Union. It remains to be seen the extent to which the recent spate of attacks and increased militancy in Kazakhstan have operational links to the broader network of terrorist groups operating in Central Asia and South Asia.