Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev has claimed that the attackers who carried out the recent attacks that rocked the northwestern city of Aqtobe "received instructions from abroad," and suggested that suspects will face the death penalty.
The June 8 comments were the first made by the Kazakh leader since dozens of gunmen carried out the attacks on June 5, prompting a "counterterrorism operation" and leaving a growing death toll of more than 20 dead, including attackers.
There have been no credible claims of responsibility for the attacks, which targeted two gun shops and a National Guard base and have left the country in a state of high alert, with several attackers still at large.
In separate statements posted to the president's official website, Nazarbaev said that "pseudo-religious radical movements who received instructions abroad" were behind the attacks, and that "a person who has taken up arms and killed people should be punished with the death penalty."
The long-serving president introduced a moratorium on capital punishment in 2003 and the death penalty was officially abolished in 2007, but the country's constitution makes an exception in cases of terrorist acts.
Also on June 8, Nazarbaev was quoted by his official website as telling security chief Vladimir Zhumakanov that in the course of the continuing manhunt, suspects "should be eliminated in the case of armed resistance."
"We are aware that they are in the region, we have identified them, and local people have been warned about it," Nazarbaev said.
The claim that the attackers had received instructions from abroad offered no indication of who may have given the instructions.
The Interior Ministry told RFE/RL's Kazakh Service on June 8 that 13 suspected attackers were killed and 4 of them injured, while 6 remain on the run. 9 have been arrested, according to the ministry.
Kazakhstan plans to hold a national day of mourning on June 9 to commemorate the victims, the president's website announced.
Security chief Zhumakanov said during his meeting with Nazarbaev that the authorities had identified and questioned 20 people who allegedly "refused to take part in the preparation stage" of the Aqtobe attacks. Zhumakanov provided no further details.
Kazakh police spokesman Almas Sadubaev has said the attackers are suspected to be followers of "nontraditional religious movements," a term often used in Central Asia to describe Islamic extremist groups.
Kazakhstan's Senate, however, in condemning what it described as a "foul criminal attack" against the country's peace and stability, has said the perpetrators' actions had "nothing to do with religion."
The country is in a state of high alert, but there are signs that life is returning to normal in Aqtobe. RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported that businesses and schools have reopened and public transportation has resumed normal operations in the city of nearly 400,000.
Funerals took place on June 8 for 3 of the civilians killed, the service reported.
The Aqtobe incidents are a rare burst of violence in the tightly controlled country of around 18 million people.
Kazakhstan witnessed major protests against planned agricultural-land reforms in April and May. More than 1,000 activists were detained around those demonstrations, and many received 10-15-day jail sentences after being convicted of planning or attending the unsanctioned rallies.
Source: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, June 9, 2016