A general view shows the town of Khorog, Tajikistan.
(photo credit: REUTERS/SHAMIL ZHUMATOV)
An idealistic young couple, Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan, both in their late 20s, were among four cyclists killed in Tajikistan in July in an attack ISIS claimed responsibility for, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
Austin and Geogehan, who quit their hectic office jobs in Washington, DC, were on the trip of their lives, enjoying “more peaceful pedaling through gorgeous landscapes, more sleeping in open fields under clear skies, more quiet sunsets, more friendly people, more adventure and, importantly, more time together too, living life on simpler, more meaningful terms,” their blog reads.
Their trip started in July 2017 and took them from South Africa through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi to Tanzania, from where they flew through Egypt to Morocco. The couple then rode along much of the European Mediterranean shoreline and from Istanbul, Turkey, flew to Central Asia. From there, Austin and Geogehan were planning to continue toward eastern Asia, Australia and South America.
Throughout their journey, the couple said they were trying to prove “Evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives different than our own,” Austin wrote.
“By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”
And they were mostly right. Through the blog and social media, the couple shared their positive experiences, from being handed ice-cream bars by a truck driver, to being treated to an open-air concert in a meadow where they had pitched their tent in Kazakhstan, to being given a bouquet of flowers at the top of a mountain pass by little girls in Kyrgyzstan.
But Austin and Geogehan ran out of luck.
They were among four cyclists from the United States, Switzerland and the Netherlands who were killed in late July when a car intentionally plowed into them on a rural road in the mountains of Tajikistan. After the crash, the attackers also stabbed their victims, as reported by the US Embassy.
A purported video of the attack received from an anonymous source and published by Radio Free Europe showed a car making a U-turn after knocking down the cyclists and driving over several people on a narrow road in broad daylight.
Several days later, an Islamic State outlet published a separate video of five men pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and claiming responsibility for the attack. The men, who speak Russian, sit under a black Islamic State flag and refer to each other by Arabic names.
The terrorist group’s claim runs counter to a statement by the Tajik government which accused a banned Islamist opposition party of being behind the attack. However, the party’s exiled leaders denied any link to the attack and said the authorities were using the incident for political purposes.
Austin and Geogehan’s story went viral on social media, with many commenters arguing that the couple’s itinerary was naive and their deaths senseless.
However, many experts of the region rejected the idea that the two Americans were careless, arguing that while ISIS’s presence is still considerable in Iraq and Syria and has grown in Southeast Asia, the group has morphed back into what it used to be in other areas – a guerrilla group carrying out deadly attacks by local terrorist cells.
The July incident was the first known attack of its kind against Western tourists in Tajikistan, a remote ex-Soviet state located north of Afghanistan in towering mountains, where Islamists fought an insurgency against a Moscow-backed government in the 1990s.Reuters contributed to this report.
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