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Video Purports to Show Tajikistan Attackers Pledging Allegiance to ISIS

A day after claiming its first attack in Tajikistan, the Islamic State released a video Tuesday that purports to show the five attackers joining hands and pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist group’s leader.

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Rukmini Callimachi
Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times

A day after claiming its first attack in Tajikistan, the Islamic State released a video Tuesday that purports to show the five attackers joining hands and pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist group’s leader.

The video was released by the Islamic State’s internal news agency and suggests that the attackers had at least a digital connection to the Islamic State, allowing them to send the footage to the group before last weekend’s attack on several cyclists who were run over and attacked on a mountain road in Tajikistan.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, releases a pledge video for only a minority of the attacks it claims. In the past, the existence of the video has provided the first concrete clue of an online connection between the assailants and the terrorist group’s central organization. The fact that the attackers managed to get the footage to ISIS points to an avenue for contacting the group, analysts say.

“It shows that these individuals are more than just inspired,” said Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “They are not necessarily directed by ISIS, but they are clearly more than inspired.”

“It shows the digital connection,” Hughes added. “The touchpoint with ISIS is not by proximity to the caliphate but through the relationships they make online.”

Using a Daewoo sedan, the attackers in Tajikistan ran over the group of seven cyclists on a scenic mountain road on Sunday, killing four of them. Two were Americans, one was a Swiss citizen, and one was a Dutch citizen.

In Tajikistan, the Interior Ministry released a statement that included photographs of four dead men, said to be the attackers, as well as mug shots of several other men who have been taken into custody. At least one of the bodies displayed in the images released by the ministry appeared to match that of one of the men seen in the ISIS video, and other photographs resemble some of the men in the video.

Despite the similarities, the Interior Ministry blamed domestic political opponents, not the Islamic State, for the attack. In its statement, the ministry accused a member of a local party, the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, of being the mastermind behind the attack. The government banned the party in 2015, accusing it of plotting a coup.

“This would appear to fit a pattern where the government manufactures illogical allegations against the IRPT,” Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a telephone interview, referring to the opposition party. “It’s truly illogical to have all indications of an ISIS-inspired attack, and try to blame the party.”

In the video, which is less than three minutes long, five of the presumed attackers are seen sitting in a half-circle on a stone slab. Behind them is the ISIS flag, hanging from the branches of a tree. At their feet is a single knife. They join hands and then pledge allegiance to Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State.

“O disbelievers, we have come to you with slaughter,” they say, according to a translation provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks the activities of extremists online. “We will eradicate you and make the word of Allah supreme.”

RBK, a Russian newspaper, citing the Tajik Interior Ministry, said one suspect was killed after he attacked a police officer with an ax. The police also killed three other suspects who were armed with knives, the ministry said. Four others have been detained on suspicion of being connected to the attack, or of financing it.

Some of the bodies of the cyclists were found to have stab wounds, and in a statement posted on its website, the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan confirmed that the attackers first used their vehicle to crush the victims and then jumped out and stabbed them with knives.

The use of a vehicle to run over people in a crowd, combined with a second wave of attacks using knives, has been heavily promoted by Islamic State sympathizers in their online chat rooms. A similar attack in London last year left eight people dead. And after driving a van into passers-by on one of Barcelona’s most popular streets last August, killing 13 people, the assailants behind Spain’s first ISIS attack bought four knives, presumably to use in a second phase of attacks.

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