Kazakhstan explosions come on the heels of new religion laws

By November 1, 2011

Kazakhstan (MNN) — Two explosions went off in Kazakhstan yesterday morning, killing one man and injuring no others. The man killed was reportedly a suicide bomber responsible for one of the two attacks.

The first blast apparently came from a trash bin and went off near an administrative building in Atyrau, according to Reuters news agency. The second went off near the offices of the city's prosecutors, breaking windows but harming no one except the bomber.

Kazakhstan is known as one of the most peaceful nations in the central Asian region, rarely playing host to such incidents. This set of explosions represents the second major attack the country has seen since May.

The fatalities of the bombing may seem insignificant, but the timing of the attacks could be critical. They come just weeks after two restrictive and disputed religion laws were set into motion in the nation.

"Whether this particular explosion had something to do directly with this law remains to be seen. We have to let this play out a little bit," explains Joel Griffith with Slavic Gospel Association. "But there have been threats that have come to play from extremists groups saying that because of this new law that bans the prayer rooms, there could well be strikes and attacks because of this, unless authorities repeal this particular law."

Reuters and BBC News both confirm that threats were made last week by a previously unknown Islamist group in regard to the prayer room clause of the religion laws. The laws also provide a host of stipulations regarding missionaries, religious group registration, and religion taught to children. (Read about these laws here.)

Regardless of who was behind these attacks, the effects will likely be the opposite of what was intended. Rather than the government rethinking the law, attacks like this will likely only spur restrictions.

"In terms of what the aftermath of this will be, my gut reaction just from an analytical point of view is that it probably would lead, at least in the short-term, to even further restrictions."

Griffith further speculates, "What we typically see in authoritarian countries when these sorts of things happen [are] reprisals. You see further tightening."

Essentially, Christians who are already preparing to suffer the effects of new religion laws could potentially see even further restrictions due to these attacks, especially if they are proven to be religion-linked. Much of the reasoning behind the new restrictive laws was to prevent extremism, a wave spurred in no small part by the May 2011 bombings. A second grouping of attacks could yield consequences for all religious groups.

In some ways, it's too soon to speculate about what's to come. Griffith suggests that for now, believers pray.

"Pray that the Lord would give them wisdom in how to best share the love of Christ, the peace of Christ, the reconciliation of Christ, in response to horrific attacks such as this.  Pray that people would see the love of the Lord in all this, and that the Lord would use this to draw people to Himself."

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