BISHKEK (Reuters) - Security forces said they killed six gunmen in two clashes in Kyrgyzstan’s capital on Thursday, stoking fears of the spread of militancy in the politically turbulent region.
Bursts of machinegun fire and explosions rang out from Bishkek’s Gorky Street area, about a mile (1.5 km) from parliament and government buildings, people said on social media.
“They were preparing a terrorist attack,” National Security Committee spokesman Rakhat Sulaimanov said, adding it was not clear what group they belonged to.
Authorities in the mostly Muslim nation have said they are worried about the risk of locals joining militant groups in Iraq and Syria, then returning to mount attacks at home.
Kyrgyzstan’s Interior Ministry has said it knows of more than 350 Kyrgyz citizens who have gone to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria, more than 30 of whom have died.
Police said four attackers were killed and four security service members wounded in central Bishkek - and two more attackers were killed at around the same time in the suburbs.
Kyrgyzstsan remains ethnically and culturally divided between its more developed north and a much poorer south, densely populated by ethnic Uzbeks.
Fears of militancy have been echoed by Russia, which has a military airbase in the country, and by governments of other former Soviet republics in Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan also lies on a drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan. Two presidents have been deposed since 2005 and hundreds were killed in inter-ethnic bloodshed in the south in 2010.
Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Heavens