DUSHANBE (TCA) — The Islamic State (IS) extremist group has claimed responsibility for the killing of four foreign cyclists who were attacked by at least one assailant with a gun and knife after being run down by a vehicle in southern Tajikistan on July 29, RFE/RL’s Tajik Service reported.
The group’s Amaq news agency published the claim on July 30, but did not provide details or evidence to back up its statement, which was also published by the SITE intelligence group.
The attackers “were soldiers 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.
Earlier on July 30, Tajik Interior Minister Ramazon Rahimzoda said in Dushanbe that a governmental group had been formed to investigate the incident, in which two Americans, one Dutchman, and a Swiss citizen were killed.
At least three other foreigners — including one French citizen — were injured in the July 29 incident, in the Danghara district of the Khatlon region, about 150 kilometers south of the Tajik capital.
Authorities said at least one person had been detained in connection with the attack and one other was killed in a confrontation with security forces. That contradicted earlier reports suggesting two suspects had been killed and several more detained.
“The driver and passengers of a car that hit the foreign tourists, [then] got out of the car and attacked [the cyclists] with firearms and knives,” Rahimzoda said.
Eyewitnesses told RFE/RL’s Tajik Service that the incident did not appear to be an accident. One local resident who was at the scene of the incident shortly after it occurred said one of the injured cyclists told him that people jumped out of the car after hitting the cyclists and started stabbing them.
The U.S. Embassy to Tajikistan issued a statement saying that “according to multiple sources, on July 29 Tajik citizens hit seven foreign cyclists with their vehicle, exited the car, and stabbed the cyclists with knives.”
“We condemn the senseless attack, offer our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and wish the injured a speedy recovery,” the statement said.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry said the Dutchman who was killed was 56 years old and the other Dutch citizen injured in the attack was 58 years old.
Rahimzoda said the investigation was being put under the personal control of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, whose country has recently sought to boost its foreign tourism.
Rahmon described the incident as a “cruel act” in a message of condolence to U.S. President Donald Trump.
Hundreds of Tajiks are believed to have left the country to join militant group Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East or elsewhere.
Hidajet Biscevic, the EU ambassador to Tajikistan, told RFE/RL that he was “really shocked” by the incident, which he said was “very complex” and “very worrisome.”
“People tend to believe that this is not an isolated attack done by these four, five, whatever number, young people in the Danghara region,” he said. “[This incident] could also have a very strong psychological and social impact on the security of foreigners in the country at the time when Tajikistan is focusing its attention to attract foreign investment and foreign assistance for the development of the country, in particular in the area of tourism.”