Khatlon Oblast, Tajikistan – An idealistic District of Columbia couple, who embarked on a bicycle trip through Africa, Europe and Asia with the belief that evil was “make-believe concept,” was murdered in an ISIS-claimed attack on July 29 (video below).
The attack occurred on day 369 of their journey.
Jay Austin and his girlfriend, Lauren Geoghegan, both 29, were riding with a small group of five other tourists on a rural stretch of road in southwestern Tajikistan, The New York Times reported.
Although the U.S. State Department travel advisory for the area was at the lowest level on that day, the predominantly Muslim region borders Afghanistan, which has been designated as a “do not travel” area by the State Department, The Washington Post reported.
The area is generally safe for Western tourists, but is still “very much a dysfunctional state” with many corrupt border officials, a repressive central government, and a severely economically disadvantaged population, Paul Stronski, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told The Washington Post.
A brief cell phone video showed a Daewoo sedan as it passed by the cyclists. The vehicle suddenly made a sharp U-turn, then headed back towards the group before it slammed into them.
After running over the riders and their bikes, the five terrorists jumped out of the vehicle and stabbed the victims before fleeing the scene, CBS News reported.
In addition to Austin and Geoghegan, a tourist from the Netherlands and another from Switzerland were also murdered, according to The Washington Post.
The remaining three injured cyclists received medial assistance, the New York Post reported.
Tajik authorities blamed the attack on a domestic Islamic separatist group, but ISIS subsequently released a video that showed the purported attackers sitting in front of an ISIS flag as they vowed to kill “disbelievers,” The New York Times reported.
“It shows that these individuals are more than just inspired,” Seamus Hughes, the deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism told The New York Times. “They are not necessarily directed by ISIS, but they are clearly more than inspired.”
The Tajik Interior Ministry later released a statement that included photographs of four dead men accused of being involved in the attack. Several other men who were taken into custody were also shown in the statement.
According to their joint blog, Austin and Geoghegan embarked on their journey in July of 2017, after they became disillusioned with their conventional, well-paying jobs and left them behind in order to travel the world.
“There’s magic out there, in this great big beautiful world,” Austin chronicled in the Simply Cycling blog.
“I’ve grown tired of spending the best hours of my day in front of a glowing rectangle, of coloring the best years of my life in swaths of grey and beige,” he wrote, according to The New York Times. “I’ve missed too many sunsets while my back was turned. Too many thunderstorms went unwatched, too many gentle breezes unnoticed.”
Instead of using a vehicle, the pair chose to undergo their voyage by bicycle due, in part, to the “vulnerability” they were forced to experience on the bikes.
“With that vulnerability comes immense generosity: good folks who will recognize your helplessness and recognize that you need assistance in one form or another and offer it in spades,” Austin wrote.
The idealistic couple blew off the potential threats to their safety, and said they believed “evil” did not truly exist.
“You read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place,” their blog read. “People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil.
“I don’t buy it. 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…By and large, humans are kind. Self-interested sometimes, myopic sometimes, but kind. Generous and wonderful and kind.”
“No greater revelation has come from our journey than this,” Austin wrote.
You can watch cell phone footage of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attack on the cyclists in the video below: