Back in my foreign service days I was posted in Tajikistan and thanks to those days I still have friends in the country. One of those friends sent me word about an incident in the country…..
Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan shook the dust of Washington, DC, off their feet—and the jobs that had kept them there—a year ago in order to bike around the world. The 29-year-olds’ journey met a tragic end in Tajikistan on Sunday, with the Islamic State claiming credit for the bloody attack that took their lives. NPR reports the couple was biking in a group of seven south of the capital, Dushanbe, when a car drove into them. Attackers then descended on the group with knives, killing Austin, Geoghegan, a cyclist from the Netherlands, and another from Switzerland. The AP reports Tajik authorities made no mention of the ISIS angle but instead blamed the murders on the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a local group that was banned over an alleged coup plot.
The Washington Post reports that if ISIS is found to have played a role, it would be their “first deadly attack in former Soviet Central Asia.” The Post and NPR profile Austin—who had a master’s from Georgetown, worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and had built a 143-square-foot tiny home in DC—and Geoghegan, also a Georgetown grad who studied Spanish and Arabic and worked in the university’s admissions office. They left those lives behind and charted their adventures on their Simply Cycling blog, which tracked their journey throughout Africa, Europe, and central Asia. “Life is short and the world is big and we want to make the most out of our youth and good health before they’re gone,” they wrote. NPR has many more excerpts from their blog, including details of Austin’s final cliffhanger.
Tajik authorities have pointed additional fingers toward Iran…..
the Tajik Interior Ministry on July 31 accused the banned Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) of being behind an attack. The group denied the allegation as “baseless and irrational.”
The ministry also said that the attackers were led by an “active member” of the IRPT who “underwent training in Iran.”
The authorities offered no immediate proof of the claims.
The Iranian government has summoned the Tajik ambassador to Tehran to protest allegations linking Iran to an attack that killed four foreign cyclists in Tajikistan.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it summoned Ambassador Nematullo Emomzoda on August 1 to convey Iran’s “strong” protest over “false and unfounded” claims made by the Tajik government.
Why would the Tajik authorities want to implicate Iran?
The US Ambassador to Tajikistan, Ken Gross, announced on June 25 that the US plans to open a military training center in Tajikistan pending the signing of related agreements with the Tajik side.
The planned military center falls within the Pentagon’s $50 million security program for the Central Asian region as the US prepares to start its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The program seeks to bolster regional security by upgrading and building new security check-points, and training military personnel to combat drug-trafficking and terrorism (US Central Command press release, June 29; www.vesti.kz, June 28).
There you go……with our hostilities ramping up with Iran it is always good to have friends to help out, right?