An attack by suspected Islamic militants has killed seven people in the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan.

The killings occurred in the normally placid town of Taraz in southern Kazakhstan, causing panic in the region.

According to media reports, an assailant shot dead four members of the state security forces as well as two civilians. One of the gunmen then blew himself up, an act which took the life of another policeman. At least four other people were injured during the bloody rampage.

The office of the state prosecutor described the attacker as 34 years old, a follower of jihadism, and named Kariyev.

We never thought that this kind of thing could happen here, a resident of Taraz told Reuters.

Kazakhstan, an oil- and gas-rich nation of about 16 million wedged between China and Russia, has witnessed a number of attacks this year.

In October, a suicide bomber killed himself in the western city of Atyrau. An Islamic group called Jund al-Khilafah (Soldiers of the Caliphate), claimed responsibility.

In may, another suicide bomber attacked a security building in the northern city of Aktobe, injuring two.

One half of the nation’s population is Kazakh, with Russians comprising about one-quarter of the people. The remainder consists of Uzbeks, Koreans and Chechens