The mystery deaths of 14 Kazakh border guards and a huntsman in a fire at a mountainous border post near China appears to have been an “act of terror,” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev said on Friday.
The 15 bodies were found on Thursday in the burned-out wreckage of the Argkankergen border control post in the Tian Shan mountain range outside Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, the Kazakh security council said.
It said that the bodies of two more guards were found later, raising an earlier toll of 13.
“I believe this to have been an act of terror. Likely it happened as a result of internal conflicts. But it is too early to talk about this,” Nazarbayev told security chiefs in Astana, the Kazakh capital.
“When such incidents take place in peace time it requires very thorough investigation,” he added, in comments released by the president’s office.
He gave no further indication about who he thought was behind the act or what “internal conflicts” he was referring to. It is also not clear what the huntsman was doing at the border post.
However, Nazarbayev’s comments were the first clear indication from the authorities that they believe foul play was the cause of the tragedy and the deaths were not accidental.
Kazakhstan, long seen as one of Central Asia’s most stable states, has seen an unusual upsurge in unrest blamed on Islamist militants in the past years.
However, there is no evidence yet that suggests they are linked to the incident.
The Kazakh security services have issued vague details about the incident, saying only that the charred bodies were found next to the burned wreckage of the border post and an investigation is ongoing.