MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) – Six terrorists who plotted to assassinate Kazakhstan’s leaders and establish an Islamic state in the former-Soviet republic have been sentenced to up to 10 years in jail, Kazakhstan’s Supreme Court said.
One of the group’s leaders, Ali Sharipov, convinced his underage wife to “sacrifice herself” by donning a suicide belt and blowing herself up along with Kazakhstan's leaders at the opening of an opera theater building in the capital, Astana, the Court said in a statement Wednesday. It did not say when the attack was supposed to have happened.
The group also planned to attack an intelligence services building and also blow up the Palace of Peace and Accord – a pyramid-shaped concert hall in Astana that symbolizes religious and ethnic tolerance in the predominantly Muslim nation of 18 million, it said.
Astana’s Inter-district Criminal Court sentenced the group’s founders, Sharipov and Serik Koshalakov, to 10 years in jail Wednesday at the end of a closed trial, according to a court statement. Four other group members received between 5 ½ and 9 years in jail, the statement said.
Prosecutors said last September, Koshalakov and Sharipov opened a café in Astana where they recruited followers to carry out the attacks and eventually establish a caliphate, or Islamic state, in Kazakhstan, Express K news website reported Wednesday.
One of the six men was detained on January 1 as he tried to rob jewelry boutiques in Astana. Police later arrested the other five and found precursor materials for explosives in the café – along with guidelines for organizing terrorist attacks and making explosives, the report said.
Koshalakov’s wife Madina reportedly claimed that authorities planted the explosives in the café building and that the charges against her husband were trumped up. “We are ordinary believers,” she was quoted by the Tengri News website as saying.
About 70 percent of Kazakhstan’s population of almost 18 million are Muslims, and their arid, oil-rich nation is also home to a sizeable ethnic Russian minority and smaller groups of Uzbeks, Uighurs and Volga Germans.
In recent years, Kazakhstan has witnessed growing numbers of people turning to “non-traditional” Islam, Deputy Prosecutor General Johan Merkel said last November. He said that in the previous five years, 148 people were convicted on charges relating to terrorism in the previous five years, while 160 were convicted of extremism.