Cyclists killed in Tajikistan described ‘dream’ trip

A wounded cyclist is attended to after a car and knife attack that killed four tourists in Tajikistan. (AP Photo)
Updated 31 July 2018
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Cyclists killed in Tajikistan described ‘dream’ trip

  • The riders were attacked by a gang armed with knives and guns in a highly unusual incident for Tajikistan
  • The slain Americans explained on their blog that they had decided to quit their jobs to bike around the world

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan: Cyclists from Europe and the US who were killed in an attack claimed by the Daesh group in Tajikistan had described their trip as a “dream come true.”
The victims were Jay Austin and Lauren Munoz from the US, Rene Wokke from the Netherlands and Markus Hummel from Switzerland, according to Tajik authorities.
Each of the travelers had a blog to document journeys that took them to the Pamir Highway, a Soviet-era road stretching across 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) which runs near the border with Afghanistan and has spectacular views.
The Americans explained on their blog SimplyCycling that they had “decided to quit our jobs and bike around the world.”
The pair had traveled through Africa and Europe before flying to Kazakhstan in May.
The posts on the site and on their Instagram account broke off as they ventured into mountainous Tajikistan, the poorest of the former Soviet states.
“Tajikistan is a tough place to cycle. It is cold and windy and mountainous and, most of all, very, very high,” Austin wrote a week ago.
“Really glad I did it. No need to ever do it again,” he said of crossing a Tajik mountain pass at a height of 4,655 meters with thin air and intermittent snow.
Austin had been featured in the Washington Post in 2015 as one of those following a “tiny house” trend and downsizing his daily life to essentials.
On Sunday, a car mowed into the group of seven cyclists, two of whom were injured while another was left unscathed.
The riders were attacked by a gang armed with knives and guns in a highly unusual incident that Tajikistan has said was organized by a member of an opposition party.
Dutch victim Wokke, a 56-year-old psychologist, was cycling with his partner Kim Postma, a 58-year-old hospital administrator, who was injured in the incident.
The website of Dutch newspaper NRC said the couple were traveling from Bangkok to Tehran and chose to go through Tajikistan to avoid the dangers of Afghanistan.
Wokke was a very experienced traveler and had visited more than 130 countries, according to his brother, Erik.
The pair, from Amsterdam, had left Thailand in February and planned to arrive in Tehran in September before flying back to the Netherlands.
Wokke and Postma described the Pamir Highway on their blog as “the ultimate challenge of this trip.”
Victim Markus Hummel also kept an online record of the journey with Swiss national Marie-Claire Diemand who was injured in the attack.
In a blog entry entitled “A dream comes true,” they explained that they were traveling along the Silk Road from Xi’an in China to Kyrgyzstan.
“Since we are already on the road, we definitely don’t want to miss the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan,” the pair said.
Their last entry was on July 25 when the whole group was staying in the Tajik town of Khorugh, after adventures including their tent filling with drifts of sand.
They said that, on the highway, “we enjoy the silence, the dreamlike landscape and look at the Pamir River and the Afghan side of the valley all day long.”
Friends and well-wishers posted messages of condolences on the American victims’ SimplyCyling Instagram page.
One, Robert Renner, wrote: “My condolences to the family and friends of Jay and Lauren.”
Another, Angela Wuerth, wrote: “I’m so sad that something so tragic could happen to such beautiful, kind people.”


Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

Updated 48 min 6 sec ago
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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

  • The acting defense secretary cited a 'painful' family situation that would hurt his children
  • Donald Trump said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON: After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” Shanahan said in a statement. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation but media outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today published extensive reports Tuesday about circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce shortly before Trump tweeted that Shanahan’s nomination would not go forward.
In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.
Defense officials said that leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
In his tweet, Trump simply said that Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.”
And, in noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!“
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January following policy differences with Trump.
Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.
His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.
In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.
Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.