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Tajikistan to create 'tourist police' after IS-claimed attack kills four

The incident was at first reported as a hit-and-run road accident but later claimed by the Islamic State jihadists. 

Published: 01st August 2018 10:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st August 2018 10:15 PM   |  A+A-

In this photo taken on Sunday, July 29, 2018, cycles are left where four tourists were killed when a car rammed into a group of foreigners on bicycles south of the capital of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (Photo | AP)

By AFP

DUSHANBE: Tajikistan on Wednesday pledged to create a "tourist police" force to protect visitors after four tourists were killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon ordered the creation of the force tasked with "protection of public order and security (and) escort of tourists" as well as the "prevention of crime," state media reported. 

The move is a response to the attack by an armed gang on a group of seven foreign cyclists on Sunday which left two Americans, one Swiss and one Dutch national dead along a popular biking route. 

The incident was at first reported as a hit-and-run road accident but later claimed by the Islamic State jihadists. 

Tajik authorities have declared 2018 to be a "year of tourism" and claim massive increases in visitor numbers.

On Tuesday IS released a video showing what it said was a pledge of allegiance by the five men accused of murdering the European and American tourists visiting the impoverished ex-Soviet nation. 

Police in the authoritarian country have so far ignored the IS claim of responsibility for the attack, instead blaming a banned Islamist opposition party with the backing of rival Iran.

The police account has generated scepticism outside the republic due to an ongoing government crackdown on members of the party, which was legal as recently as 2015, Tajikistan's icy relations with Tehran and the IS video footage.

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 jihadist flag. 

The clip shows them swearing allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group's leader.

Tajikistan released pictures of four of the suspects after they were killed by police while resisting arrest. A 33-year-old man resembling the fifth participant in the video has been detained.

The victims were killed by being struck by a car and attacked with knives and guns 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 United States, Dutch citizen Rene Wokke and Swiss citizen Markus Hummel. 

One Dutch and one Swiss citizen also survived the attack while a French cyclist escaped unscathed.

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