Tragedy In Tajikistan: Most Humans ‘Are Warm, Friendly People Who Wish Us No Harm’
The four foreign cyclists who were brutally killed when they were run down by a car along a scenic highway in southern Tajikistan included a Dutch psychologist, two Americans on a round-the-world bike trip, and a Swiss man.
The four were part of a seven-person group who had met up while cycling in the region and decided to ride together through a lower route in the picturesque Pamir Mountains. The other three were injured in the attack.
In the July 29 attack, which occurred about 150 kilometers south of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, the attackers plowed into the cyclists, then exited the car and stabbed them, officials said.
Islamic State (IS) extremists claimed responsibility and issued a video on July 31 showing five men pledging allegiance to the group under the organization's black flag and criticizing Tajikistan because it "has been occupied by infidels."
The Tajik government, however, rejected the claim and instead blamed followers of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a political party that previously held government posts but was banned by the authoritarian regime in 2015.
The attack stunned the authorities, who have tried to make tourism an important economic draw for the impoverished country. With breathtaking landscapes, Tajikistan, and neighboring Kyrgyzstan, draw an ever-increasing number of cyclists and other adventure tourists -- with some 900,000 travelling to Tajikistan thus far this year, a nearly 400 percent increase over the total amount for 2017.
The seven cyclists included three couples and a Frenchman whose name the French Embassy in Tajikistan has not confirmed.
The Americans -- Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan -- had left their jobs and were on a trip around the world with their two-wheelers that began nearly a year ago with a tour of Africa before they proceeded to Europe and then moved on to Central Asia.
They had been in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan before entering Tajikistan. Austin wrote detail-filled blog entries with accompanying photos documenting the pair's bike travels.
Here is what is known about the those killed and injured in the attack:
A 29-year-old who worked for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department for seven years, Austin had left his job to be a full-time cyclist and travel the world. He had written on his blog that "bike touring is really safe. Despite what the news would have you believe, the world is a really wonderful, caring place, and stories of kidnapped travelers or mauled cyclists are the rare exception.... The greatest danger to usare humans in cars." He was among those killed.
A 29-year-old based in Washington, D.C., Geoghegan was a graduate of Georgetown University. A native of southern California, she had worked on Capitol Hill. On Geoghegan and Austin's blog, simplycycling.org, it says Geoghegan only became serious about cycling about five years ago. But since then, it says, she "fell in love with the efficiency, accessibility, wellness, open air, vulnerability, community, intimacy, and joy of bicycle riding." Geoghegan had accompanied Austin on several bike tours in different parts of the world. She was also killed in the attack.
Rene Wokke and Kim Postma
A 56-year-old psychologist from the Netherlands, Wokke was in Tajikistan with his longtime partner, Kim Postma, 58, on a trip from Thailand to Iran. They had decided to go through Tajikistan to avoid going through Afghanistan, which they had decided was more dangerous. Wokke, who had made many cycling tours with Postma, had travelled to some 130 countries, his brother said.
Wokke and Postma, who lived on a houseboat in Amsterdam, had for many years been active foster parents for troubled children, taking them into their houseboat until the children found more permanent homes. Wokke was killed in the attack. Postma was treated at a Dushanbe hospital and released, and she was reportedly resting at a safehouse in the capital, according to the German Embassy in Tajikistan (there is no Dutch Embassy in Dushanbe).
Markus Hummel and Marie-Claire Diemand
The Swiss cyclists hailed from the canton of Zurich. The 62-year-old Hummel and his partner Diemand, 59, wrote on a blog titled "A dream comes true," that they were biking along the old Silk Road from China's Xian all the way to Kyrgyzstan. They wrote on July 25 that in Tajikistan they "enjoy the silence, the dreamlike landscape and look at the Pamir River and the Afghan side of the valley all day long." Hummel was killed in the attack. Diemand survived and was hospitalized in Dushanbe.
The Frenchman was riding behind the rest of the group and reportedly was not part of the initial attack. He was reportedly lightly injured. The French Embassy in Tajikistan was unable to provide any further information about him.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.