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“Streets were empty, people were frightened,” said Aidana Maksutova, 20, an economics student in Karaganda. “Toward evening, it became clear that they were simply rumors. But there were still doubts … And what happened in Taraz has confirmed that rumors didn’t come from nowhere.”

Ms. Maksutova added that fear of Islamism is playing out badly for the country’s more visibly devout Muslims. “It is insulting for the real Muslims,” she said. “They are avoided. For example, if the girl comes into the bus in a yashmak [a veil that covers most of the face], half of bus gets off at the next stop.”

Kazakhstan has a population of 15.5 million people, of whom about 47 percent are Muslim.

Laws requiring official registration of religious groups and banning state employees from praying at work were enacted last month. A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate) released a video threatening violence if the legislation was not repealed and later claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in the western city of Atyrau on Oct. 31.

While many view the new laws as a trigger for recent attacks, underlying reasons for the violence remain murky.

In the western part of the country, where most of the terror attacks occurred, oil workers since May have been striking against what they see as a discrepancy between their wages and those of foreign workers. Some analysts draw a link between Islamist extremism and wider feelings of discontent among Kazakhs.

“There is growing discontent with Nazarbayev, and I think people are becoming slightly more willing to express that, which really hasn’t happened previously,” Ms. Taggart said. “I think that this terrorism is linked to a broader feeling that people are slightly more able to express their anger with the authorities.”

Writing on the opposition Alga party’s website, politician Marat Zhanuzakov put it more bluntly: “The government is confused today and doesn’t know what to do about the terrorist threat, which is a natural result of a long-term policy of current regime. Terrorism appears when government doesn’t listen to its people.”