— The Tajik government blamed IS for an attack near Dushanbe on Nov. 6 and two days later the extremist group took responsibility but there are still plenty of questions, writes James Kilner
A few hours after an attack on a military checkpoint around 60km west of Dushanbe, there were notably more armed police on the streets of the Tajik capital. Earlier a roads that runs through opulent gardens outside the Presidential Palace had been eerily quiet. There were also fire-engines, military and civilian, parked down side streets. They hadn’t been there the day before.
Surely the extra armed police, the fire-engines and the empty street leading past the Presidential Palace were linked to the attack, blamed on the extremist group IS, that had killed 17 people that morning.
Not necessarily, I was told.
The attack happened on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of Tajikistan’s constitution, one of those anniversaries that former Soviet states like to celebrate, and according to people walking along Rudaki, the main street in Dushanbe, the extra security would have been in place regardless of the alleged attack.
It all seemed rather odd. An alledged IS attack had occurred hours earlier, only an hour’s drive from central Dushanbe and this was the sum total of the extra security precautions?
Details of the attack were also emerging that three fresh questions on its veracity. Of the 17 people killed, 15 were apparently IS fighters. How did a heavily-armed and highly motivated IS unit with the element of surprise apparently lose a firefight so conclusively? Fifteen dead attackers compared to two dead government soldiers.
The government also released a handful of grim photos from what it said was the shoot-out location. Some of the dead bodies shown on the photos had had their hands tied behind their back. Does this mean that Tajik forces had actually captured several of the attackers and then killed them? Was the attack in some way staged?
Previously, the Tajik government has been too eager to press its claims that IS is a major threat to its stability. This line, the government appears to reason, will generate financial support from donors. And the timing for the Nov. 6 attack appears to have been good for the Tajik government as Pres. Emomali Rakhmon was not in the country. Instead, he was glad-handing EU leaders in Europe.
Although IS claimed responsibility, the attack doesn’t really carry its hallmarks. For many, the questions of who and why the attack happened are still out there.
— This story was first published in issue 428 of the weekly Bulletin.