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Chechen terrorist plotted bomb attack on Istanbul airport: US official

Three suicide attackers struck Turkey’s busiest airport on Tuesday, killing 44 people and injuring hundreds more. No one has claimed responsibility for the strike but the Turkish government has blamed the IS.

Updated: Jul 01, 2016 18:04 IST
In this June 30 photo, family members, colleagues and friends of the victims of Tuesday blasts gather for a memorial ceremony at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. A Chechen extremist masterminded the triple suicide bombing at Istanbul's busiest airport.
In this June 30 photo, family members, colleagues and friends of the victims of Tuesday blasts gather for a memorial ceremony at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul. A Chechen extremist masterminded the triple suicide bombing at Istanbul's busiest airport.(AP)

The Istanbul airport attack was masterminded by a Chechen terrorist who served in the Islamic State’s “war ministry”, a US official said on Friday even as it emerged that the attackers had been planning to take dozens of people hostage.

Three suicide attackers struck Turkey’s busiest airport on Tuesday, killing 44 people and injuring hundreds more. No one has claimed responsibility for the strike but the Turkish government has blamed the IS.

Akhmed Chatayev from Russia’s North Caucasus region, directed the three attackers, US congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told CNN. McCaul said his information came from Turkish intelligence.

Chatayev, nicknamed “One-Armed” after one of his limbs was chopped off in prison, served as a top lieutenant in the IS war ministry, McCaul said. Turkish and Swedish media have also identified Chatayev as the organiser. Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported he was the head of the IS’s Istanbul cell.

The whereabouts of Chatayev are unclear but his ties to jihadi activities are well documented, McCaul said. “He’s...probably the No 1 enemy in the Northern Caucus region of Russia. He’s traveled to Syria on many occasions and became one of the top lieutenants for the minister of war for ISIS operations,” he said.

“We believe he (Chatayev) coordinated with the three suicide bombers in Istanbul to conduct this attack during the season of Ramadan,” McCaul added.

In this framegrab from CCTV video, made available by Turkish police on June 30, 2016, three men believed to be the attackers, walk in Istanbul's Ataturk airport on June 28, 2016. Three attackers carried out a gun-and-suicide bomb attack, killing dozens and wounding scores of others at the busy airport . (AFP)

Last year, Chatayev was named a foreign terrorist fighter of the IS by the US treasury department, which said he was planning attacks against US and Turkish facilities. Chatayev was also sanctioned by the UN Security Council, which said he was “training and redeploying Russian-speaking ISIL militants from the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq to the Russian Federation with a view to setting up ISIL cells and conducting terrorist acts”.

Officials have said the three attackers from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan entered Turkey a month ago from the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. They came prepared with suicide vests, bombs and weapons.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported on Friday that the attackers scouted the scene and planned to take dozens of passengers hostage at the Ataturk airport before carrying out a massacre.

But they began the assault earlier than planned after attracting suspicion, the report said. “The coats they were wearing to disguise their suicide vests, despite the hot weather, drew the attention of citizens and a police officer,” it said.

Turkish media showed a CCTV grab showing the three men wearing dark jackets, two of them in baseball caps.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported the bombers had rented a flat in Istanbul’s Fatih district, home to many Syrians and Arabs, three months ago and paid 24,000 Turkish lira ($8,300) in advance for a year’s rent.

The police raided the apartment, according to a neighbour, who said the bombers kept the curtains closed. She never saw the attackers, but she heard them and complained to neighbourhood officials about a strange smell.

“A very weird, chemical smell,” she told Hurriyet. “Police came after the bombing...I lived on top of the bomb.”

Police visited Fatih area and showed neighbours video and photographs of the three attackers. One man who owns a real estate agency said one of the men in the photo had lived in his apartment.

Hurriyet also quoted a plumber, who said one of the attackers came to his shop to ask if he could fix their tap. “He spoke in broken Turkish. He took me home,” the plumber said.

“I changed the tap. I saw three people inside. They looked like bandits. One always stood by me. I left after changing the tap. They paid me 20 Turkish lira.”

Turkish police detained 11 more foreigners suspected of being members of an IS cell in Istanbul early on Friday. They were believed to have links to the suicide bombers who attacked the airport, broadcaster Haberturk reported. Some of them are Russians.

On Thursday, police detained 13 people, four of them foreigners, during raids in Istanbul. Nine more people suspected of being IS members were detained in Izmir city.

The Istanbul airport attack was masterminded by a Chechen terrorist who served in the Islamic State’s “war ministry”, a US official said on Friday even as it emerged that the attackers had been planning to take dozens of people hostage.

Three suicide attackers struck Turkey’s busiest airport on Tuesday, killing 44 people and injuring hundreds more. No one has claimed responsibility for the strike but the Turkish government has blamed the IS.

Akhmed Chatayev from Russia’s North Caucasus region, directed the three attackers, US congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told CNN. McCaul said his information came from Turkish intelligence.

Chatayev, nicknamed “One-Armed” after one of his limbs was chopped off in prison, served as a top lieutenant in the IS war ministry, McCaul said. Turkish and Swedish media have also identified Chatayev as the organiser. Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported he was the head of the IS’s Istanbul cell.

The whereabouts of Chatayev are unclear but his ties to jihadi activities are well documented, McCaul said. “He’s...probably the No 1 enemy in the Northern Caucus region of Russia. He’s traveled to Syria on many occasions and became one of the top lieutenants for the minister of war for ISIS operations,” he said.

“We believe he (Chatayev) coordinated with the three suicide bombers in Istanbul to conduct this attack during the season of Ramadan,” McCaul added.

Last year, Chatayev was named a foreign terrorist fighter of the IS by the US treasury department, which said he was planning attacks against US and Turkish facilities. Chatayev was also sanctioned by the UN Security Council, which said he was “training and redeploying Russian-speaking ISIL militants from the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq to the Russian Federation with a view to setting up ISIL cells and conducting terrorist acts”.

Officials have said the three attackers from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan entered Turkey a month ago from the IS stronghold of Raqqa in Syria. They came prepared with suicide vests, bombs and weapons.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported on Friday that the attackers scouted the scene and planned to take dozens of passengers hostage at the Ataturk airport before carrying out a massacre.

But they began the assault earlier than planned after attracting suspicion, the report said. “The coats they were wearing to disguise their suicide vests, despite the hot weather, drew the attention of citizens and a police officer,” it said.

Turkish media showed a CCTV grab showing the three men wearing dark jackets, two of them in baseball caps.

The Hurriyet newspaper reported the bombers had rented a flat in Istanbul’s Fatih district, home to many Syrians and Arabs, three months ago and paid 24,000 Turkish lira ($8,300) in advance for a year’s rent.

The police raided the apartment, according to a neighbour, who said the bombers kept the curtains closed. She never saw the attackers, but she heard them and complained to neighbourhood officials about a strange smell.

“A very weird, chemical smell,” she told Hurriyet. “Police came after the bombing...I lived on top of the bomb.”

Police visited Fatih area and showed neighbours video and photographs of the three attackers. One man who owns a real estate agency said one of the men in the photo had lived in his apartment.

Hurriyet also quoted a plumber, who said one of the attackers came to his shop to ask if he could fix their tap. “He spoke in broken Turkish. He took me home,” the plumber said.

“I changed the tap. I saw three people inside. They looked like bandits. One always stood by me. I left after changing the tap. They paid me 20 Turkish lira.”

Turkish police detained 11 more foreigners suspected of being members of an IS cell in Istanbul early on Friday. They were believed to have links to the suicide bombers who attacked the airport, broadcaster Haberturk reported. Some of them are Russians.

On Thursday, police detained 13 people, four of them foreigners, during raids in Istanbul. Nine more people suspected of being IS members were detained in Izmir city.