At the end of July 2018, an American man who believed that “Evil is a make-believe concept” and his girlfriend were stabbed to death by five men who had reportedly sworn allegiance to ISIS as the couple bicycled in Tajikistan. Now an interview with the man who was the alleged ringleader in the attack reveals a chilling portrait of a terrorist loyal to the radical Islamist sect.
Jay Austin and Lauren Geoghegan had bicycled thousands of miles through various countries before they were brutally murdered in Tajikistan, where the five men who had pledged their allegiance to ISIS ran them down on a highway and stabbed them to death. While the couple was in Morocco, Austin had written:
You watch the news and you read the papers and you’re led to believe that the world is a big, scary place. People, the narrative goes, are not to be trusted. People are bad. People are evil. People are axe murderers and monsters and worse.
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—it’s easier to dismiss an opinion as abhorrent than strive to understand it. Badness exists, sure, but even that’s quite rare. 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.
In an episode of The New York Times “The Weekly” titled “Collision,” interviewer Rukmini Callimachi spoke with an alleged member of ISIS who reportedly orchestrated the murderous attack in which the two touring bicyclists were killed on the side of a highway in Tajikistan. As The New York Times noted of the show, “Investigators show Rukmini the evidence they collected, including the ISIS ringleader’s cellphone, which contains his communication with Islamic State leaders abroad before, during and just after he and his men killed the cyclists.”
Soon after the attack, as Callimachi reports, ISIS released a video showing five men pledging allegiance to ISIS. The alleged ringleader of the group was Hussein Abdusamadov, who reportedly spent time in Syria with ISIS. Callimachi stated, “By seizing Hussein’s phone, the investigator was able to read the encrypted messages he’d sent to his ISIS handler who was operating somewhere outside of Tajikistan. Here was something extremely rare; a close-up look at a terrorist plot in the making.” Callimachi stated that Hussein videotaped the attack but was unable to forward it to his contacts in ISIS and thus the video was still on his phone.
Interviewed by Callimachi, Abdusamadov stated, “We were recruiting people to join the Islamic State and were given instructions from time to time. Orders to commit a terrorist act. “ Asked about the incident, Abdusamadov answered:
We had pledged to commit jihad. When we were in Syria and Iraq, we received orders to commit a terrorist attack in Belgium. We were supposed to attack the European Union Parliament, but since our documents were late, an order came that we must go to Tajikstan to commit a terrorist attack. I formed my own group here and committed the attack. When Muslims are being killed everywhere, we must try to kill non-believers wherever we find them. When they stop killing Muslims, we will stop too.
Callimachi protested that Austin and Geoghegan “never killed anyone. And they firmly believed that if they were kind to other people, other people would open their hearts to them. And for the vast majority of their trip, this was the case.”
Abdusamadov replied, “We received an order and followed it. We didn’t have plans to ask them questions or talk to them.”
Callimachi asked, “I want to understand at what point you chose these people.”
Abdusamadov answered, “We saw them in the territory of Danghara and attacked them.” Asked if he interacted with the tourists at the gas station they stopped at just prior to the attack, Abdusamadov replied, “Yes. I talked to them. I asked them where they were from. I asked them what nationalities they were and they told me they were Americans … They said they were Americans and laughed.” He concluded, “Americans had to be killed.”
Asked if he felt any regret, Abdusamadov answered, “When Americans kill Muslims, they don’t regret it. We’re the same way. We will continue.”
Callimachi said. “When I look at you now, I see another human being. When you look at me, what do you see?“
Abdusamadov replied, “I see a Christian person. A person who isn’t a Muslim.”
Callimachi: “Do you think you have anything in common with the people that you killed?”
Abdusamadov: “No. There was nothing in common. They are humans and so are we. We didn’t have anything else in common.”