A hit-and-run driver has killed four foreign cyclists in Tajikistan in what may have been a terrorist act, the Central Asian country’s Interior Minister has said.
- Security forces pursuing suspects in the attack have killed four people
- A video purportedly of the incident showed a car hitting the cyclists, doing a U-turn and hitting them again
- Three other tourists were injured, one with a stab wound
The tourists, from the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands, were killed on Sunday, Tajik authorities said.
Three more, from Switzerland, the Netherlands and France, were injured — and one of them also had a stab wound.
Security forces pursuing suspects in the attack killed four, including one as he was resisting arrest, and detained a fifth man, the former Soviet republic’s interior ministry said.
“We are looking into all versions — accident, robbery … including a terrorist act,” Interior Minister Ramazon Rakhimzoda told a briefing.
Among the four suspects killed was the owner of the car, which police believe hit the tourists as they were cycling through a rural area 90 kilometres south-east of the capital Dushanbe.
A purported video of the incident published online by Radio Free Europe and credited to an anonymous source showed a car doing a U-turn on a narrow road after it had already knocked down a group of cyclists and then running over a few of them again.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s AMAQ news agency claimed, but did not provide further detail or evidence for its claim.
The attackers “were soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the attack in response to calls to target the citizens of the coalition countries,” a statement by the group said.
Suspects named in ‘wanted’ notice
A “wanted” notice disseminated by Tajik authorities named two suspects aged 18 and 19 from the same village close to the Tajik-Afghan border, and a third one, 21, from the town of Nurek located not far from the site of the attack.
The US Embassy said it could not name the two US victims due to privacy concerns, but indicated that it also considered the incident to be an intentional attack.
“We strongly condemn the cruelty of the attackers and recognise that they in no way represent the kindness and hospitality of the Tajik people,” it said in a statement.
Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the death of one Swiss national and said it was in contact with the second tourist, who has been injured.
The Government of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon fought Islamist guerrillas in a 1992-1997 civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives. (Reuters: Shannon Stapleton)
“If it is established that this was a terrorist attack, it will be noted in future travel advice for Tajikistan,” the ministry said in a statement.
Britain’s Foreign Office urged UK tourists in Tajikistan, particularly those hiking or cycling in its south, “to exercise extreme caution and vigilance during their visit”, citing “the first incident of this kind in Tajikistan”.
The Government of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon — who expressed condolences to the US, Swiss and Dutch authorities on Monday — fought Islamist guerrillas in a 1992-1997 civil war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Some Tajik Islamists then joined a coalition government, but in 2015 the state outlawed their political party, accusing its leaders of being behind a failed coup, a charge they deny.
Thousands of people from the mainly Muslim region have joined Islamic State militants in recent years.