Radical Salafis and Oil Thieves

What open sources can tell us about the security operation in Aktobe, Kazakhstan

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On December 7, story broke out on Instagram that Kazakhstan’s special forces had launched a large-scale operation in several areas of Aktobe, in west Kazakhstan. The operation reportedly targeted a gang of suspected oil thieves, together with group of radical Salafis who were accused of protecting them. Thus far, we can identify two locations of the raids — “Aktobeneftopererobotka” and “Viva Pro”.

The first location is “Viva Pro”, a small oil refining company that can be identified from the Instagram videos and a picture posted by @zello.aktobe. According to online business register businessnavigator.kz, the address of the location is 132 Avenue of Industrial Zone, AZHS district.

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This location was identified from the three videos posted on Instagram by @zello.aktobe, an account that includes user-submitted content and shares local news around Aktobe focusing on traffic conditions and warnings.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BNtU_t_gDiA/?taken-by=zello.aktobehttps://www.instagram.com/p/BNtV6uWA2y3/?taken-by=zello.aktobe

The videos show several military vehicles arriving to the scene and dozens of men in military-style helmets and riffles surrounding the building.

People posting comments on the video on Instagram at first thought it was an exercise and cautioned each other against over-reacting.

Three more eye-witness videos were posted by Novosti Kazakhstana, Zakon.kz, and Gazeta Diapazon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTniVqhOM5Ihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtTSFOsWSB0

The location of two of the clips cannot be verified andthe third ws taken from the front of the same building, but from a different angle.

Despite the fact that the identifiable videos show the raid on Viva Pro, the media continued to report that the raid in the video took place at another oil refinery called “Aktobeneftopererobotka,” which is also located in Aktobe’s industrial zone. It is clear that the raid in the video took place at Viva Pro, but photographs posted online confirm a separate operation at “Aktobeneftopererobotka”.

A picture shared by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kazakh service (Radio Azatik) shows an armed man similar to those in videos from the Viva Pro raid. This armed man is standing outside “Aktobeneftopererobotka”:

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This building matches the location of Aktobeneftopererobotka as seen on KUR.kz:

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We can see the location of “Aktobeneftopererobotka” via Yandex maps:

And we can also seee it on satellite imagery accessed via Google Earth:

There are no videos showing the raid on this company, but Radio Azatik’s journalist went to the refinery to confirm the events, as detailed in their article.

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The company’s website states that the managing director of the refinery is Iljas Tasmagambetov, a nephew of Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Imangali Nurgaliuly Tasmagambetov.

According to a report from the Kazinform news wire, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Information and Communications, Arsen Bektasov, confirmed that a special operation was taking place, led by the National Security Committee. He did not disclose additional details, but said that more information would be provided when the special operation concluded. Unconfirmed local media reports indicate that various security service bodies took part in the operation, among them Kazakhstan’s National Security Committee, the police, and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Local media reported that the operation resulted in several arrests in different parts of the city.

The special operation concluded at around 3pm local time. The National Security Committee confirmed that it had launched a large-scale operation in cooperation with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Aktobe and other cities of the country. Some local media reports said that the special operation may also have included Kandygash, another town in the Aktobe region . There are no other reports denying or confirming this rumor.

According to the official account, some of the detainees are suspected of involvement in the theft and trafficking of oil products, while others were radical Salafis, who supposedly provided ‘protection’ for the members of the group engaged in oil theft.

This is not the first time that the Kazakh authorities have accused organized criminals and radical Salafis of cooperation. In 2014, the agency for economic crimes and corruption reported that it had detained members of a transnational gang involved in oil theft and led by a radical Salafi. However, with the identities of the current suspects still unknown, it is impossible to assess the veracity of the claim.

The incident is the second major security incident in Aktobe this year. On June 5, the city suffered an attack in which 7 people were killed, among them 3 soldiers. In response, the security services launched an anti-terrorist operation during which 18 suspected terrorists were killed and 9 detained. Following the attack, Kazakhstan declared a ‘yellow level’ (moderate) of terrorism threat, which in August was extended till 15 January 2017.