Tajikistan blames attack that killed 2 Americans on opposition group

Tajikistan blames attack that killed 2 Americans on opposition group

(CNN) – The Tajikistan government Tuesday blamed an attack that killed four foreign cyclists, including two Americans, on a banned political opposition group.

The Interior Ministry issued a statement attributing Sunday’s attack to the Islamic Renaissance Party, known as IRP or IRPT.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that IRPT leader-in-exile Muhiddin Kabiri denied and condemned the attack.

Seven cyclists from the United States, Switzerland, the Netherlands and France were set upon in a vehicle by several “terrorists” acting for the IRPT, the ministry said. Two Americans, a Dutch national and a Swiss national were killed in the attack and three other cyclists were injured.

The ministry said during its investigation, authorities killed four suspected attackers. Spokesman Umarjon Emomali said more than three attackers were captured.

The ministry said the suspected leader of the group told authorities he joined the ranks of the “Party of Islamic Renaissance” after visiting Iran on several occasions for “ideological and military training.”

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi condemned the attack and denied any Iranian involvement, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Commenting before Sunday’s attack, Steve Swerdlow, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Tajikistan’s “authoritarian government was rewriting the country’s recent past to sketch the IRPT as a purveyor of evil, when in reality it was a key player in establishing a fragile peace post-civil war.”

On Monday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, without providing any proof.

Five men shown in a video pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi appear to match photos of the men identified by the ministry as responsible for the attack.

The video, which the ISIS-affiliated Amaq news agency said it obtained on Tuesday, identified the men as “the attack executors in the province of Denghar west of Tajikistan.” The group in the video does not mention Sunday’s attack.

In a statement, the ministry named and released photos of a group of men it blames for the attack. They appear to match the individuals seen in the video.

A senior US State Department official condemned the attack and said the United States is ready to assist the investigation. The official referred questions to Tajik authorities.

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