Banned Muslim political party blamed for deadly attack on tourists in Tajikistan
Four Western cyclists run over then stabbed to death in assault also claimed by Islamic State
Tajikistan’s government accused a banned Islamist party of being behind the attack which killed four tourists from the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
Citing what it said was the confession of a detained suspect, Tajikistan’s interior ministry said in a statement that the attackers’ leader had been trained in Iran and the group planned to flee to Afghanistan after the attack.
Iran denied any links to the group.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran denies any link with this terrorist attack and categorically denies that there is any military base to train terrorists inside Iran,” said foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, quoted by the Mehr news agency. “We condemn all terrorist acts all over the world, including the recent attack on foreign tourists in Tajikistan.”
Four Western cyclists were killed when a car ploughed into them on Sunday after which the attackers also stabbed their victims, Tajikistan’s interior minister and the US embassy said on Monday.
The victims, two Americans, a Swiss and Dutch citizen, were struck by a car and attacked on a popular cycle route in the Danghara district, about 100km (60 miles) south of the capital Dushanbe.
“[The suspects] had knives and firearms,” said Interior Minister Ramazon Hamro Rahimzoda, adding that two other cyclists, Swiss and Dutch nationals, were injured and sent to hospital. “One tourist received a knife wound and is being given medical assistance. The victim’s condition is stable.”
Another cyclist with the group, a French citizen, escaped injury and was questioned by police.
A Belgian cyclist who arrived at the scene after the attack told Flemish broadcaster VRT that he saw “several cyclists on the ground – some were completely shocked”.
“When I asked what had happened, the first thing someone said was that they had been hit by a car and that the people who had come out had started stabbing them with knives,” Nicolas Moerman said.
The Dutch foreign ministry said one of the dead tourists was a 56-year-old man who was cycling the route with his 58-year-old partner.
Security forces killed four suspected attackers on Monday and detained one. In Tuesday’s statement, the interior ministry said it had detained four more people suspected of being linked to the attackers.
Among the dead suspects was 21-year-old Jafariddin Yusufov, owner of the Daewoo Leganza car that hit the tourists, officials said.
The Dushanbe government banned the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) in 2015, accusing it of plotting a failed coup. Party leaders who now live in exile have denied the charges and said the move against them aimed to consolidate President Emomali Rahmon’s grip on power.
Earlier on Tuesday, IRPT expressed condolences to the families and nations of the victims and said it hoped the investigation would “not only refute rumours and assumptions”, but also help Tajikistan regain trust in the eyes of foreigners.
Separately, Islamic State on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack, although it did not provide any details or evidence for its claim.
In its statement, IS said a “detachment from the soldiers of the Caliphate” carried out the attack against “citizens of Crusader coalition countries”, according to intelligence monitor SITE.
The Swiss foreign ministry on Monday said Switzerland “calls for every effort to be made to shed light on this serious incident”.
“If it is established that this was a terrorist attack, it will be noted in [Switzerland’s] future travel advice for Tajikistan,” said ministry spokeswoman Silvia Muller on Monday, adding the motive for the attack was still unclear.
A French diplomatic source said the country’s embassy in Tajikistan was “engaged in facilitating the return” of the French survivor.
Rahmon sent notes of condolence to the US, Switzerland and the Netherlands over the deaths and called for increased security throughout the country at a special meeting on Monday with the country’s law enforcement chiefs.
Tajik authorities had declared 2018 “a year of tourism”. In June, Rakhmon said state officials found to be soliciting bribes from tourists would be deemed “traitors” and fired.
The cyclists were travelling on a road that joins the famous Pamir Highway, a Soviet-era road surrounded by stunning mountain scenery.
Visitor numbers quadrupled in the first five months of 2018 compared the same period last year, he said.
Tajikistan is the poorest of the ex-Soviet republics and has been ruled by 65-year-old Rakhmon since 1992.
Agence France-Presse, Reuters