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IS claims bicycle tourists attack, Tajikistan points to forbidden party

"Tajikistan is occupied by non-believers, who have sold their faith for a low price with the help of the apostates." With those words, the video that IS-channel Amaq starts online online begins. The video shows the five perpetrators who attacked a group of bicycle tourists in southern Tajikistan on Sunday. Four cyclists were killed, including the Dutch René Wokke. His girlfriend was hospitalized and, according to the German embassy in Tajikistan, is now in a safe house in the capital Dushanbe.

Seated on a rock, the eldest of the five men in the film, expresses a declaration of loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and warns the "infidels" that "the word of God will overcome". The black IS flag flies above their heads.

It is unclear where and when the film was made, but the men show striking resemblance to the stunned corpses of four perpetrators – the alleged leader of the group was arrested alive – in the photos which the Tajik Ministry of the Interior published on Monday. IS, which regularly claims attacks, has not done an attack in the country before.

Radical groups come on

According to the ministry not IS, but the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) is behind the attack, with the aim to "destabilize" the country. The IRPT, the only legitimate Islamic party of Tajikistan and then banned until 2015, denied having anything to do with the attack on Tuesday and called for an international investigation into the matter, according to the Tajik news medium Akhbor via Twitter. The ministry has not yet withdrawn or amended its declaration, and it was not available for comment on Tuesday.
It also stated that the leader of the group would have undergone an ideological-military training in Iran.

The fact that the men in the IS-movie call the Islamic Tajiks 'apostates' is characteristic of the complex political relations in the region. In Tajikistan, the liberal, Sunnite Hanafi Islam is adhered to, but after the fall of the Soviet Union more radical groups emerged, such as the Islamic Movement of East Turkestan, the international, pan-Islamic Hizbut al-Tahrir and the militant Islamic Movement. from Uzbekistan.

Since Islamic State emerged in 2014 and attracted many young, often unemployed men from Central Asia, the president of Tajikistan Emomali Rachmon, who has been sitting since 1992, has been firmly opposed to fundamentalist Islam. In the same year that the Renaissance party was banned, officials in some regions of Tajikistan offered to shave off their beards to prevent Islamic extremism. Mosques are being watched and can not allow minors and shops where headscarves were sold were forbidden. In 2017, the publication and import of religious books was restricted, wrote [TheEconomist last year.

Two thousand Tajiks go to IS

Also read: Should we fear more terror from Central Asian angle?

Ironically, the harsh action of the authorities according to experts leads to radicalization of Muslims. Around the two thousand Tajiks would have joined IS in Iraq and Syria in recent years. According to a 2015 report by the Brussels think tank International Crisis Group, some two to four thousand Central Asians competed for IS during this period. Residents of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan have committed deadly attacks in the name of IS in Russia, Turkey and Sweden in recent years.

Because of the harsh approach in Central Asia, IS recruiters moved their practices to Russia. There, seasonal workers from Central Asia often work in appalling conditions. Experts therefore emphasize that Islamic terrorism is not a specific Central Asian problem, but that the problem is largely due to the poor socio-economic conditions in the region. "Some young people are not religious at all when they leave for Russia, but only radicalize there", said the Russian-Tatar radicalization expert Danis Garaev last year against NRC .

Grip on land reinforced

According to the Since two years in the capital city of Dushanbe, Dutchman Ronan Shenhav, the alleged terrorist act of Sunday is a blow to the flourishing tourism sector of the country, but the Tajik government is simultaneously attacking the radicalization threat to legitimize its own regime. Shenhav is a student at the University of Groningen and is conducting research into the civil war that plagued the country in the 1990s. In addition, he worked on projects on anti-radicalization and conflict prevention of a local NGO. Shenhav: "By emphasizing the threat of extremism, the regime wants to show the outside world that it fulfills a useful function and hopes to receive more foreign money."

President Rachmon, like many Tajik dignitaries, comes from the Danghara region where the attack took place. He has strengthened his grip on the country in recent years and there are rumors that he has health problems and wants to name his son, who is now mayor of Dushanbe, as successor, says Shenhav on the phone. That the government cites Iran as a training place for at least one of the attackers, also fits in a pattern, according to Shenhav. "It can of course be true, but Tajikistan has had a diplomatic conflict with Iran since Moehiddin Kabiri gave a lecture in Iran in 2015." Kabiri is the leader of the forbidden Renaissance party, fleeing from Tajikistan.


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