December 21, 2016 / 9:17 AM / 8 months ago

Kazakhstan says raids Islamist network, detains 16

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's state security service has detained 16 suspected members Takfir wal-Hijra Islamist group, it said on Wednesday, accusing them of "inciting religious hatred".

The National Security Committee said in a statement it had carried out raids in four provinces of the Central Asian nation in order to "neutralise the cells of religious extremist organisation Takfir wal-Hijra".

The Islamist group, established in Egypt in the 1960s, has been banned in Kazakhstan since 2014.

The security body said group members sympathised with "the actions of terrorists in Iraq and Syria and, in general, reject secular government and constitutional laws".

Among other provinces, the security operation covered the Aktobe region, the site of a deadly Islamist attack last June in which 25 people, including 18 attackers, were killed.

The attack targeted a national guard base and firearms shops in the city of Aktobe. It was the deadliest incident of its kind since the mostly Muslim country became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Last month, a local court sentenced most of the surviving attackers - described by prosecutors as Islamic State sympathisers - to life in prison. The authorities have not linked Takfir wal-Hijra to that attack.

Thousands of nationals from Central Asian nations are known to be fighting alongside Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, and authorities have long warned they could return and carry out attacks on home soil.

Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Toby Chopra

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