By Dmitry Solovyov
ALMATY (Reuters) - Five suspected militants and two security officers were killed in a shootout near Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty, prosecutors said on Sunday, in the latest of a series of attacks in the oil-producing Central Asian state.
The five gunmen barricaded themselves in a house in the village of Boraldai outside Almaty late on Saturday after fatally wounding two security officers, prosecutors said.
"After they refused to surrender voluntarily and put up staunch armed resistance, the five members of the terrorist group, including their leader, were destroyed," the prosecutor-general's office said in a statement.
A string of blasts and shootouts have fractured Kazakhstan's image of stability this year. The long-peaceful, mainly Muslim nation had not until this year seen the outbursts of militancy seen in other parts of the vast region north of Afghanistan.
In the latest case, prosecutors did not say if the militants belonged to any wider extremist network. Law-enforcement bodies could not be immediately reached for further details.
The statement only said the group was led by a 34-year-old man and was responsible for the murder of two policemen in Almaty last month, it said.
"The group's members had been planning to carry out new acts of violence in Almaty," the statement said, adding that the gun battle raged for a few hours until almost midnight.
A video released by the privately owned agency Tengri News showed women and children heading for safety in the dark along village streets. Single shots could be heard in the background.
"They say there are terrorists up there," a local man said in the video, standing near a cafe in the dark. "We have been standing here for more than an hour and cannot get home."
Last month, a 34-year-old man killed seven people, including five members of security forces, in the southern city of Taraz in the most violent attack to date in Kazakhstan. Prosecutors then said he was a "follower of jihadism."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who has ruled with a firm hand and little tolerance of dissent for more than two decades, said last week that the Taraz killings were "sheer banditry" and had nothing to do with religious extremism.
Authorities had earlier officially ruled out any link to Islamist militancy when a man blew himself up in May at the offices of the National Security Committee in the northwestern city of Aktobe, killing only himself.
But after other unexplained gunfights and bombings, followed by the arrest of 18 people in the oil-hub city of Atyrau in August on suspicion of planning "acts of terror," Kazakhstan adopted a new law on religion in October.
Nazarbayev has backed the law, which bans prayer rooms in state buildings, as a means of eradicating religious extremism.
Urging Nazarbayev to repeal the law, a group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) threatened violence in a video message shortly before claiming responsibility for two blasts in Atyrau on October 31. The suspected bomber was killed.
(Reporting By Dmitry Solovyov Editing by Maria Golovnina)