Tajikistan refutes IS claims to cyclist killings
Tajikistan late Friday rejected claims by the Islamic State group regarding an attack on a group of tourists in the Central Asian country last week.
Four people were killed when a car veered into a group of cyclists travelling through the country on Sunday. Militants then stabbed and shot the tourists who survived the initial attack.
IS released a video showing a group of men it claimed were responsible for the killing of the four foreign cyclists and injuring of two more.
Tajikistan's government for the first time responded to these claims by publishing a statement late on Friday, after earlier reporting it as a "hit-and-run road accident".
The public prosecutor's statement on Friday said the attack aimed at "creating an atmosphere of fear and panic in society and undermining the international authority of the Republic of Tajikistan".
"The attack on the foreign tourists was a terrorist act," the statement said.
The armed group attacked a group of seven foreign cyclists Sunday which left two Americans, one Swiss and one Dutch national dead.
The public prosecutor said the video claiming responsibility for the attack was released "with the aim of deflecting suspicions from another terrorist organisation, the Islamic Renaissance Party, which is the main commissioner of this terrorist act".
Police initially blamed the banned, moderate Islamic Renaissance Party (IRPT) for the attack, but this has been widely rejected by experts.
Government forces launched a crackdown on activists from the party when it was banned in 2015.
Tajik police claimed a suspect detained following Sunday’s attack "underwent training" in Iran, a country with whom Tajikistan currently has poor relations.
Both Iran and IRPT have denied any links to the attack.
The video released by IS Tuesday shows five men, who resemble pictures of the suspects put out by Tajik police, sitting by a tree in front of a banner used by the group with the militants swearing allegiance to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Four of the men were killed resisting arrest, with a fifth man in police custody.
The tourists were killed as they cycled along a road off the Pamir Highway - a popular tourist route with spectacular views.
They have been named as Lauren Geoghegan and Jay Austin of the US, Dutch citizen Rene Wokke and Swiss citizen Markus Hummel.
One Dutch and one Swiss citizen survived the attack, while a French cyclist escaped unscathed.