Two of the riders’ bikes
Photo: Zuly Rahmatova (AP)

Lauren Geoghegan and Jay Austin wrote that they were trying to see the world by bike. The couple quit their jobs last summer to begin a transcontinental bicycling odyssey of sorts. Their goal was not to break any records, nor even attempt to encircle the entire globe. “We have neither a firm route nor a timetable, a sponsorship nor a place we need to be,” they wrote, “and so we’re comfortable just pedaling where the winds and the world and our own hearts take us.”

They were on a leg that began in Almaty, Kazakhstan when disaster struck last weekend. Geoghegan and Austin were riding in a group with a few other western cyclists in the Khatlon province of Tajikistan. Per a release from the U.S. embassy in Tajikistan, a car swerved into a group of seven cyclists on purpose, hitting several. Assailants then got out of the car and stabbed the group. A Dutch rider and a Swiss rider also died in the attack, while three others were injured. A video of the attack (which is blurry, but still obviously very graphic) shows a driver swerving across the road to hit riders, and even launching one off of an embankment. Tajik authorities have killed four suspects and captured a fifth.

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Though all of the suspected attackers were Tajik citizens, the Islamic State took credit for the attack on Monday, per the New York Times. The group released a bulletin in which they said that “soldiers of the Islamic State” killed the cyclists “in response to calls to target citizens of Coalition countries.” The BBC reports that the group also released another video that shows the five attackers pledging to fight for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and against the Tajik state.

If this is indeed an ISIS-directed attack, it is the first one carried out on Tajik soil. According to an Oct. 2017 report, over 1,300 Tajik citizens have left to join ISIS in Syria, which makes it one of the group’s largest sources of fighters.

Geoghegan and Austin were planning to ride through Central Asia, then work their way east over to the Pacific coast. Austin traveled throughout his 20s and got hooked on bike touring when he completed a 660-mile trek through Morocco. Geoghegan wrote that she never spent much time on a bicycle until she moved to Washington, D.C. and begn riding around the city, eventually agreeing to ride around the world with Austin. After a month-long trip around Iceland, they decided to commit to the lifestyle full-time. Their goal was always to enjoy themselves and see the world.

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“We’re prioritizing memories over mileage,” their blog reads, “meaning that we’re fine taking breaks—short weeks out of the saddle here or there, or longer stops to relax, live, or work—and we won’t be too terribly disappointed if we don’t come full circle but end up having a great time of it anyway.”