American Jay Austin posted to Instagram about arriving in Tajikistan on July 21: “And we thought Kyrgyzstan had mountains. Settling into life above 4,000 meters.”
Austin, 29, and companion Lauren Geoghegan, 29, both of Washington D.C., were two of the four people murdered in the mountains of Tajikistan in what has been called a terrorist attack. A Swiss and Dutch national, too were brutally slain in southern Tajikistan Sunday. Three others were injured. The first reports were that it was a hit-and-run driving accident. But Monday, video and new reports indicate not only were they mowed down by a vehicle, or vehicles, after being struck, the victims were attacked with “knives and firearms,” Tajik minister Ramazon Hamro Rahimzoda told international media.
Radio Free Europe quoted government officials who said: “The driver and passengers of a car that hit the foreign tourists, [then] got out of the car and attacked [the cyclists] with firearms and knives.” A witness told RFE that “one of the injured cyclists told him that people jumped out of the car after hitting the cyclists and started stabbing them.”
RFE said Monday the news agency of the Islamic State, Amaq, published the claim of responsibility for the attack, translated as those that perpetrated the attack “were soldiers of the Islamic State and carried out the attack in response to calls to target the citizens of the coalition countries.”
Also killed were 56-year-old Rene Wokke, of the Netherlands, and 62-year-old Markus Hummel of Zurich.
Citizens of Tajikistan en masse posted condolences on social media and this is a common refrain: “It is disaster what is happened. I believe Tajik authorities will do utmost to find source of evil and punish guilty. Deep condolences to family members and may God rest soul of victims this tragedy.” (This translated post had spelling corrected so as to be understood.)
The nation’s president vowed to bring to justice the terrorists that attacked the cyclists.
Here’s what you need to know about Austin and Geoghegan:
Jay Austin, ‘Tiny House’ Innovator & Geoghegan Were Living Their Best Lives Biking Around the Globe
Austin worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Geoghegan was a Georgetown University graduate with a gig on Capitol Hill. Austin may be best known for his “illegal” Tiny House innovation in 2014.
“Demand for housing in Washington, DC is going through the roof. Over a thousand people move to the nation’s capital every month, driving up the cost of housing, and turning the city into a construction zone. Tower cranes rising high above the city streets have become so common, they’re just part of the background,” Reason TV wrote in its profile of Austin’s ‘Tiny Houses.’
Austin and Geoghegan’s lives were stolen while the two were doing what they loved; biking around the world, cycling in the world’s most rugged remote and challenging locales. Over the course of a year, they biked from Africa to Europe to South Asia.
Austin worked for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Geoghegan was a Georgetown University graduate with a gig on Capital Hill. They left those lives to bicycle the world.
Their journey was chronicled in stunning snapshots on Instagram and in vivid engaging posts on their blog.
“Hey there. We’re Lauren and Jay, two Americans biking around the world. Part chronicling-our-journey and part helping-others-plan-their-own, this site is a collection of what we’ve learned so far (and the whole lot we’re still learning) about pedaling the planet,” their blog, Simply Cycling, invites readers to take the journey with them.
They began their sojourn on wheels in July of 2017 in South Africa.
“And we’re off! ?? The first few days cycling north from Cape Town weren’t exactly the best start to a bike trip (lots of highways, Lauren got a flat tire, and we were forced to relocate our campsite in the dark on our very first night), but things are getting a bit more scenic and enjoyable up here. ☀️?️ Lots of flat (and occasionally hilly) farmland, plus an ostrich sighting yesterday. We’re taking a day off, camping right on the beach, before saying goodbye to the Atlantic Ocean (probably until we reach Portugal) and heading east for the Cederberg Mountains.”
Over 12 months, they had not just biked across the world, they interacted with the peoples they met along the way in Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. In Nungwi, they met the Indian Ocean.
Egypt, Morocco, Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Greece then on to Kyrgyzstan. They cycled in all conditions, in all terrains, in countries where the faint of heart might not be courageous enough to go. They were adventurers and many rode the globe with them vicariously. And, often, said with love, “be safe.”
“Lauren remembers a time (just several years ago) when she was reluctant to give cycling a chance. “But I like taking the bus!”, Lauren, a public transportation enthusiast, would say to Jay’s amusement. Aside from the occasional family bike ride around the Rose Bowl during her childhood, Lauren had not spent much time on a bicycle before 2013.
Lauren’s adult cycling journey began with a bikeshare day-pass that soon became a bikeshare annual membership and eventually the purchase of her very own bicycle from Craiglist (and later a local bike shop). As her confidence and comfort level and skills on the bicycle (and Washington, DC streets) grew, so did her cycling frequency and distances. She began biking to and from work (with the help of bicycle-friendly dresses and rain gear). She traversed parts of the city once unknown. She fell in love with the efficiency, accessibility, wellness, open air, vulnerability, community, intimacy, and joy of bicycle riding. Although she definitely still appreciates good public transportation, cycling has made its way into Lauren’s heart (and legs!) and enriched her life immensely.”
From their blog about Jay:
“Jay never really got to travel much as a kid. So at the age of twenty-three he took off on his trusty scooter and roamed 15,000 miles around North America, getting his first taste of freedom, two-wheeled adventure, and simple travel along the way. After summers on the trains of Europe, winters on the buses of India and Nepal, and long holidays driving around the deserts of Namibia and South Africa, Jay decided to bring his bicycle along on his next big trip, a ride through the mountains of valleys of southern Morocco, and immediately fell in love with the pace and routine of simply cycling.
A few bike tours later, and he decided to leave behind a nice, comfortable government job and a self-built, self-sustaining tiny house in Washington, DC to cycle around the world. This new lifestyle entails lots more bumpy roads, strong headwinds, and tough challenges than the old one—but also the freedom and the privilege to see some amazing places, meet some wonderful people, and spend lots and lots of time with a really lovely girl.”
Arriving in Tajikistan, After an Eventful Journey Across Kyrgyzstan, Austin Described a Cold, Windy High Altitude Mountainous Region Where Lauren Became Ill
They arrived in Tajikistan, a former Soviet country, on July 21. Their previous stop, Kyrgyzstan was eventful.
Tajikistan is a tough place to cycle. It is cold and windy and mountainous and, most of all, very, very high. Lauren’s been having a bit of difficulty with the altitude. After a really tough pass at the Kyrgyz/Tajik border, she couldn’t quite catch her breath, and needed to get a ride down to a slightly lower elevation. A few days of rest at Karakul helped with the acclimation, but also seems to have left Lauren with a nasty stomach bug. Rather than slog through another massive climb while still under the weather, we managed to find Lauren a ride to Murghab in the back of this old Soviet ambulance (now operating as an intra-Pamir shuttle). ? I, for some reason, thought it’d be “fun” to still cycle to Murghab, tackling the 4,655-meter Ak-Baital pass on my own. ?
They never were able to post to their blog their journey to Tajikstan; their last entry is from July 11. Austin tells a fascinating tale of biking the county where Russian is spoken and sometimes, is menacing. His very last post is about encountering locals who often ask to take pictures with them. Some are benign request and the couple is accustomed to that.
But Austin’s last blog post ends with this passage:
“Five hundred meters later, a sedan passes. It stops up ahead and the man gets out. Before we’re even in earshot he’s miming shutter-presses and mouthing pozhaluysta, pozhaluysta.
We pass, a little more peeved than the last time. Fewer smiles. I shake my head back and forth. He reaches for the back of my bicycle and I bark a firm nyet! in his direction. We ride on.
We don’t make it very far. A gold sedan skirts by us once more. It parks up ahead. This time, two men exit the vehicle. They stand in the middle of the road blocking our path. Pozhaluysta! the first man says, and I can’t tell if it’s an earnest plea or a cruel sneer. In Russian, a lot of things can sound like a cruel sneer.
Nyet! we shout. Leave us alone!
Lauren’s in front and she threads her way in between the two men. She keeps going. I make to follow. I gnash on my pedals, lean to the left, and get in between them.
And then the man on the right pushes me off my bike”
Jay Wrote, On the 365th Day, Their Last Journey, 15,000 Feet Into the Sky, Was The ‘Hardest Climb’
“Day 365. 4,655 meters; 15,272 feet. With the steep grades and thin air (and intermittent snow), this was probably the hardest climb of my life. The last kilometer or so had me pushing my bike about five steps, taking a thirty-second breather, then heaving forward another five. Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again.”
The couple was riding with a small group in the rugged, mountainous countryside of the Central Asian nation bordered by China, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, described as an “impoverished ex-Soviet nation.”
The U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan Posted Condolences to Facebook. Tajik President is Leading the Investigation
The attack happened in an area called Danghara, which is around 90 miles south of that land-locked nation’s capital, Dushanbe.
In a Facebook post on July 29, the day of the attack, the Tajik government said the country’s president would lead the investigation.
“Under the instruction of the Head of State, the Founder of Peace and National Unity, the President of the Republic of Tajikistan, respected Emomali Rahmon, all units of law enforcement agencies were mobilized to apprehend the offender.”
Though ISIS has claimed responsibility, RFE reported that “the Tajik government, however, rejected the claim and instead blamed followers of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan, a political party that previously held government posts but was banned by the authoritarian regime in 2015.”
Even Justice Won’t Bring the Couple Back to Their Loved Ones, But Tajik Authorities Captured & Killed Suspects & Have Others in Custody
“In Tajikistan, if you kill foreign cyclists with your car and flee the scene while leaving behind your license plate, police special forces will be at your house within a couple of hours to kill you dead.”
On Sunday it was first reported that there was just one suspect, a 21-year-old man, in custody. Some Tajik’s on social media had hinted any suspect would be shot immediately. It turns out officials now confirm that two suspects were shot and killed after allegedly resisting arrest. Authorities are hunting other possible perpetrators in the attack.
Sunday Rahimzoda said that authorities are “considering all possibilities” in the investigation adding “We can’t say if it is an act of terror” but admitted “state institutions are being guarded…to provide safety for citizens and tourists.”
Local police released the names and photos of suspects. Two were killed when trying to “resist arrest.” Based on the translated statements and media Tajik and regional reports the suspects still at large have a bounty on their heads.
“To find these three suspects, the High Court promises a big bonus.” “the person who is assisting in determining this person will be rewarded with large sums of money and money.” “If information about the (suspects) is guaranteed and they will be rewarded with a large amount of premium payment for submission of reliable data.”
Initially the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe confirmed the deaths of American citizens.
The U.K. warns its citizens that “Terrorist attacks in Tajikistan can’t be ruled out. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners.”
This is a statement that was reportedly made by Pres. Donald Trump in a communication with Tajik President Rahmon.
“We sincerely thank President Rahmon and the people of Tajikistan for their expressions of deep sympathy to the families of the victims. We strongly condemn the cruelty of the attackers and recognize that they in no way represent the kindness and hospitality of the Tajik people.”
The U.S. State Department has not issued any formal release about the attack and murder of Austin and Geoghegan on its web pages devoted to Tajikistan. It does link the the U.S. Embassy post that reads, “We condemn the senseless attack, offer our deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and wish the injured a speedy recovery. Because of privacy concerns, we are unable to share further details about the U.S. citizens.”
That was on July 30 and was part of an alert which offered Americans a caution but added it has, “has no evidence that indicates a heightened level of threat to U.S. citizens.”