Tajikistan Ramming Attack: ISIS Claims Responsibility, but Government Blames Banned Local Party

Tajikistan's government has accused a banned Islamist group of being behind the car ramming attack that killed four western tourists Monday, despite the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) having already claimed responsibility.

The country's interior ministry said one of the detained suspects admitted links to the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), banned since 2015 after the government accused the group of plotting a government coup, Reuters reported.

Four foreigners—two of them American, one Dutch and one Swiss—were killed Sunday when a car plowed into a cycling group on a rural road in the Danghara region, some 43 miles southeast of the capital Dushanbe. The attackers then reportedly leaped from their vehicle, stabbing the injured tourists before fleeing. Three others from Switzerland, the Netherlands and France were wounded but survived. This marks the first attack of its kind against Western tourists in Tajikistan.

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This image grab taken from an AFPTV video shows Tajik Minister of the Interior Ramazon Hamro Rahimzoda addressing a press conference in Dushanbe on July 30, in which he alleged that a banned Islamist group was behind Sunday's car ramming attack. SHODMON KHOLOV/AFP/Getty Images

The interior ministry said police killed four suspects on Monday and detained a fifth. On Tuesday, another four people were arrested, officials said.

The interior ministry statement said the detained attacker confessed to receiving training in Iran ahead of the attack, and that the group intended to flee to Afghanistan. IRPT leaders dismissed the allegations from exile. "We completely deny the illogical allegation by the interior ministry and condemn this terrorist act," the group's leader Muhiddin Kabiri told Reuters. "This [statement] draws the attention away from the real criminals," he said.

Meanwhile, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency. 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," the message said. On Wednesday, the group released a video of five men—purportedly the Tajik group that executed the operation—posing in front of an ISIS flag and swearing allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Kabiri told Reuters he was surprised that the Tajik government had apparently ignored the ISIS claim and was blaming the IRPT instead.

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The attack took place in the Danghara district, some 43 miles southeast of the capital Dushanbe. Google Maps

The U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe issued a statement confirming the deaths of two Americans, but said it could not share further details "due to privacy concerns." It continued: "Our condolences go out to the victims' families, and we will continue to work with Tajik authorities in the ongoing investigation."

Tajikistan is a former Soviet state, which broke away from the union and gained independence in September 1991. It has since struggled with poverty and political instability, even after the end of the country's civil war in 1997. President Emomalii Rahmon has been in power since 1992, despite many allegations of corruption and electoral fraud.

A combination of poverty, political oppression and sharing a border with Afghanistan has made the Muslim-majority nation a prime target for jihadi recruiters. Between 2,000 and 4,000 Tajiks are thought to have traveled to Syria to fight with various Islamist militant groups, according to a report published by the International Crisis Group. ISIS is known to have a presence in the country, and a former Tajik elite security forces commander joined the group in 2015. If confirmed, this would be ISIS's first operation within Tajikistan.