Turkey on Thursday detained 13 suspected Islamic State jihadists over the deadly Istanbul airport attack, as officials said the three bombers were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and gave chilling details of how they launched their assault.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala told parliament that evidence continued to point to Islamic State responsibility for Tuesday’s gun and suicide bomb spree at Ataturk airport, and that the death toll had risen to 43, of whom 19 were foreigners. More than 200 people were injured.
Turkey has been plunged into mourning over the carnage at Ataturk airport, the deadliest yet of several attacks to strike the country’s biggest city this year.
Counter-terrorism police carried out 16 raids across Istanbul early on Thursday and detained 13 people, four of them foreigners. CNN Turk said they were accused of providing logistical support for the bombings.
A senior Turkish official said the three bombers were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The official gave no further details. Forensics teams had earlier struggled to identify the bombers from their limited remains.
The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said the Russian bomber was from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and religious militants. The Hurriyet newspaper named him as Osman Vadinov and said he had come from Raqqa, the heart of Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria.
The Russian interior ministry said it was checking information about Vadinov. A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan’s state security service said it was investigating, while the Uzbek security service had no immediate comment.
Thousands of foreign fighters have crossed Turkey to join IS in Syria and Iraq. Turkey tightened security on the border but has argued it needs more information from foreign intelligence agencies to intercept the fighters.
Yeni Safak said the organiser of the attack was suspected to be a man called Akhmed Chatayev, of Chechen origin. Chatayev is identified on a UN sanctions list as a leader in Islamic State responsible for training Russian-speaking militants.
Turkey has suffered a string of deadly attacks in the past year blamed on either IS or Kurdish rebels, and the airport attack comes just at the start of the crucial summer tourist season.
‘Rifles in suitcases’
Details emerged of how the attackers arrived at Turkey’s busiest airport by taxi before indiscriminately firing at passengers with automatic rifles and detonating suicide bombs.
“The terrorists failed to pass through the regular security system, scanners and police control,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters late on Wednesday. “They returned and came back with long-range rifles they took out from their suitcases, and passed the security control by opening fire randomly at people,” he said.
“One of them blew himself up outside and the other two took advantage of the panic during the opening of the fire, entered inside and blew themselves up.”
A senior source close to the presidency gave a slightly different version of events, saying two attackers blew themselves up on separate floors of the airport before the third followed suit outside.
CCTV footage widely circulated on social media showed a huge ball of flame erupting at the entrance, scattering terrified passengers. Another video showed a black-clad attacker running inside the building before collapsing to the ground – apparently felled by a police bullet – and blowing himself up.
The victims include several Saudis, a Chinese national, a Tunisian and a Ukrainian.
Authorities are under pressure to convince visitors that Turkey is still safe, as the vital tourism industry has taken a heavy hit from a string of deadly attacks in the past year.
Ege Seckin, an analyst at IHS Country risk, said the attack was “most likely conducted by the Islamic State to undermine the Turkish economy by attacking the airport ahead of the summer months, when tourism peaks”.
Yildirim said Turkey would “increase the presence of specially-trained staff” at the nation’s airports.
He moved swiftly after the bombings to deny there had been any lapse in security, but many Turks have been angered by the perceived failure to stop the bombings.
“It was an airport,” one man could be heard shouting outside an Istanbul morgue on Wednesday, as devastated families went to collect the bodies of loved ones.
“It’s not like this happened in the street.”
The opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper expressed anger at what it said was a failure by the nation’s leaders to take political responsibility for the attack. “Is there anyone to resign?” it asked, pointing out that after the IS bombings at Brussels airport and a metro station in March, three Belgian ministers offered their resignation.
Turkey has suffered at least five attacks blamed on IS jihadists, including a blast in Ankara in October that left over 100 dead, the worst in the country’s modern history.
In January, a bombing in the heart of Istanbul’s tourist district, also blamed on IS, killed a dozen German visitors.
Two months later, three Israelis and an Iranian were killed in another attack attributed to the jihadists on the city’s main Istiklal shopping street.