Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev rebuked his secret police for lapses after the discovery of guns and religious literature on Thursday, July 12, in the garage of a house destroyed by fire.
Nazarbayev said law enforcement agencies, including the Committee for National Security (KNB), successor to the Soviet-era KGB, were not gathering enough intelligence to prevent militant groups from operating in the Central Asian state.
"As president and guarantor of the constitution, I am not satisfied with the work of law enforcement bodies, particularly the work of the KNB," Nazarbayev was quoted as saying on the presidential website, www.akorda.kz.
"The efforts we are making are not effective enough," he said in a stinging rebuke, calling for an overhaul of counter-terrorism strategy and better coordination between different law enforcement agencies.
Nazarbayev, in power since Soviet times, gathered the heads of the country's law enforcement agencies a day after eight people, including four children, died in a house fire in the village of Tausamaly, close to the commercial capital Almaty.
Local media had quoted neighbours as saying they heard several loud blasts from the house before the fire in the early hours of Wednesday, July 11. Early reports identified gas canisters as the most likely cause of the fire.
But prosecutors in Almaty region on Thursday launched an investigation into the "preparation of terrorism", the prosecutor-general's press service said in a statement on its website, www.prokuror.kz.
It said a search of the premises had uncovered guns, ammunition, police uniforms and religious literature. The identities of those who died have not yet been established.
"According to preliminary data, a large arsenal of weapons and explosive devices has been found. And once again, we are finding out after the fact," Nazarbayev said.
Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest and most successful economy, had until last year not witnessed outbursts of Islamist militancy seen in other parts of Central Asia, a former Soviet region lying to the north of Afghanistan.
But a string of blasts and shootouts have fractured an image of stability in the oil-producing country of 16.7 million people, where 70 percent of the population is nominally Muslim.
"We need to recognise that there are radical, extremist elements in the country who are putting enormous pressure on the state and on society as a whole," Nazarbayev said.
"People are outraged by the inability of law enforcement officers to prevent these crimes. Officers are dying because of this lack of professionalism."
Security forces have been the main target of previous attacks. The deadliest happened last November, when an Islamist militant killed seven people, including five policemen, during a rampage through the southern city of Taraz.
Two police officers were killed in December in a shootout with a suspected militant group in a village outside Almaty.The government has adopted a new law on religion which many analysts have interpreted as a means to crack down on religious militancy.