Soon after news broke of a deadly firefight in the early hours of November 6 that left at least 17 people dead, Tajik authorities released several photographs of the aftermath.
The four pictures are mostly too graphic to publish unedited but show burnt-out and shot-up cars along with some sprawled bodies. Several of the bodies are badly burned and dressed in black. They are surrounded by automatic weapons and ammunition clips.
Tajik authorities say the attackers were from an Islamic State cell that crossed into the country from Afghanistan, launching a raid on a border post that killed at least one border guard and a policeman. According to the Tajik Interior Ministry, 15 of the attackers were killed. At least four fled and were captured in a nearby village.
But two of the pictures acquired by RFE/RL show what appears to be a body, wearing clothing similar to the others, with his hands bound tightly behind his back.
A Tajik government spokesman declined “to confirm or deny” to RFE/RL’s Tajik Service whether the handcuffed man was dead.
But there is some evidence to indicate he is indeed dead:
According to the Tajik government report, all the attackers captured alive were seized in a nearby village — not at the scene of the shoot-out, where the pictures were taken.
In the photos featuring the handcuffed figure, he remains in the same position and his fingers do not move.
Although metadata that would indicate exactly when the photos were taken has been stripped, the pictures were taken in daylight, meaning the two photos featuring the handcuffed man were taken at least four hours after the 3:20 a.m. shoot-out. If he is alive, he would have likely either spent hours laying next to a burning vehicle or was brought to the site before the photo was taken.
After RFE/RL reached out for comment from the Tajik authorities, at least one of the photos given to the media was replaced with an updated photo that had the cuffed man cropped out.
AFP published three photos from the scene, none of which showed the handcuffed man. An AFP company spokeswoman confirmed to RFE/RL that they received the above photo from Tajikistan’s Interior Ministry with the handcuffed figure cut out of the photo.
Then, sometime around noon Central European Time, the ministry deleted all the images from its website without explanation.
The so-called Islamic State has yet to claim credit for the attack, which occurred on Tajikistan’s Constitution Day, a national holiday in the country, and the 25th anniversary of the date when long-serving authoritarian leader Emomali Rahmon was first elected president.