Tajik killer of western tourists sentenced to life
Tajikistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday sentenced an Islamic State jihadist to life in prison for organising an attack this summer that killed four Western tourists on a cycling trip.
Hussein Abdusamadov, 33, was convicted on several charges including terrorism, a court representative told AFP, over the killings of the American, Dutch and Swiss tourists.
The attack dealt a major blow to Tajikistan's efforts to promote the Central Asian country as a tourism hotspot.
The victims were struck by a car in July as they cycled back from the remote Pamir Highway, a popular route among tourists, before being set upon with knives and firearms.
Four of Abdusamadov's accomplices were killed by police during a manhunt.
The incident was first reported as a hit-and-run but later claimed by IS, which released a video showing what it said was a pledge of allegiance by the five men.
Tajik authorities have played down the video, instead blaming a former opposition party.
Abdusamadov had confessed to killing American cycling tourists Lauren Geoghegan and Jay Austin, Dutch citizen Rene Wokke and Swiss citizen Markus Hummel. One Dutch and one Swiss citizen survived the attack while a French cyclist escaped unscathed.
A court representative told AFP that Abdusamadov was a member of an Islamist party banned by the country's government in 2015 and had fought "on the side of the Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria.
Fourteen other defendants were convicted, with two sentenced to 16 years each on charges of participating in a criminal group and extremism.
Eleven were sentenced to up to 18 months in jail for not disclosing information about the attack, while a female defendant facing the same charge was given a suspended sentence due to her having a young child.
- Opposition party blamed -
Tajik authorities initially ignored the video released by an official IS media channel and blamed a former opposition party -- the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) which was banned by the government in 2015.
Abdusamadov pointed to the IRPT as the organiser of the attack in a confession shown on state television, but critics say the government has used the case to tar the opposition.
A dozen senior members of the IRPT are serving long prison sentences on charges that government critics say are trumped up.
The IRPT, which denies any link to the July attack, styled itself as a moderate opposition force.
The fact that the trial was closed, taking place in a high-security detention facility, raised concerns about due process.
Tajikistan has a poor record on political freedoms and human rights.
Authorities in Tajikistan say more than 1,000 of its citizens joined forces with IS following the outbreak of civil war in Syria.
The Pamir Highway on which they were travelling is a Soviet-era road that stretches across 2,000 kilometres (1,240 miles) near the border with Afghanistan.
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