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Istanbul Airport Attack: Mastermind Identified as Russian Islamic State Terror Trainer

The Turkish government has identified the man believed to have planned the attack on Istanbul Atatürk Airport earlier this week, which killed 44 people and injured more than 200. Akhmed Chatayev, known as “Akhmed One-Arm,” is a Russian Chechen terrorist believed to be operating out of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) strongholds of Iraq and Syria.

The Turkish government-friendly newspaper Yeni Safak identified Chatayev on Wednedsay. House Homeland Security Chair Rep. Michael McCaul named Chatayev in an interview with CNN following that report. Chatayev has a history of Islamist militancy stretching back into the 1990s; upon being arrested by Russian officials, he is believed to have undergone enhanced interrogation techniques that left him without an arm and with his current nickname.

Chatayev, Rep. McCaul said, is “probably the No. 1 enemy in the Northern Caucus region of Russia.” He has been a star of Islamic State recruitment videos and is seen as a trainer. He is believed to have taken the mantle of the most prominent Russian Islamic State jihadi from Omar al-Shishani, the red-headed Chechen war minister of the Islamic State “Caliphate,” who was confirmed dead in March.

Fox News notes that Chatayev’s current work as an Islamic State official involves training incoming jihadis for terror activities and planning terrorist assaults abroad. It also cites a UN report claiming that Chatayev “directly commands 130 militants” and was designated one of a number of “mastermind” terror planners.

In addition to identifying Chatayev, the Turkish government has named Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov as two of the three suicide bombers who executed the Istanbul attack. Both possessed Russian passports, though it is unclear whether they were both Russian nationals, ethnically Russian, or merely in possession of counterfeit documents. Authorities say they are currently working to identify the third terrorist; on Wednesday, Turkish officials noted the identification process was complicated by the state of the terrorists’ remains following their self-detonations.

Authorities had also identified at least one of the bombers as a Russian from Dagestan, a heavily Muslim-populated region home to a number of prominent international terrorists. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon bombers, traveled to Dagestan shortly before executing the attack.

Turkish officials have found the home the group rented, and Yeni Safak claims that a broken laptop was found at the home. Police suspect Islamic State terrorist planning information was stored on these laptops, and the group attempted to destroy the evidence before they died.

In addition to the investigation to identify those directly responsible for the airport siege, Turkish police have reportedly arrested at least eleven individuals believed to have entered Turkey explicitly to commit acts of terrorism in the name of the Islamic State. The state-run Anadolu Agency puts the number of “detained” individuals at 24, though it does not elaborate on the length of detention or potential charges. The arrests are being described as having a “connection” to the airport attack, both by Anadolu and the newspaper Hurriyet.

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