Reuters International

ASTANA (Reuters) - Suspected Islamist militants killed three people at a national guard facility and a store selling firearms in the industrial Kazakh city of Aktobe on Sunday, the Interior Ministry said.

Three of the attackers were killed and one detained in a counter-terrorist operation by police, ministry spokesman Almas Sadubayev said. Some remained at large, he said.

Sadubayev said the police suspect the attackers were "followers of radical, nontraditional religious movements", a phrase used in Kazakhstan, a mostly Muslim nation, to describe Islamist militants.

The three killed by the attackers were a clerk at a firearms store, a military officer and a serviceman, Sadubayev said. Nine servicemen were also wounded.

Police shut down public transportation, malls and entertainment venues in the city after the attacks, which took place on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Aktobe, 100 km (60 miles) from the Russian border, was the site of Kazakhstan's first suicide bombing in 2011 when a local man used an explosive device inside the building of the state security service.

Kazakh authorities often announce detentions and trials of Islamist militants, but most of them are people who travelled or planned to travel to places such as Syria and Iraq. Violent clashes within the country itself are rare.

However, the plunge in the price of oil, Kazakhstan's main export, has threatened political and social stability in the ex-Soviet Central Asian nation of 18 million.

Thousands of Kazakhs took part in street protests across the country in April and May which were triggered by a planned land reform but quickly became an expression of general discontent with the government of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in power since 1989.

(Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams and Sonya Hepinstall)

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 Reuters International