The Turkish government has revealed that the three men responsible for a suicide bomb attack on Istanbul Atatürk Airport Tuesday were all foreign nationals: from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
The revelation that one of the Islamic State (ISIS)-linked terrorists was a Russian national arrives just as Turkey and Russia have begun the process of restoring diplomatic relations, following the downing of a Russian military jet that had invaded Turkish airspace last November.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency cites “a prosecution source” as confirming the nationalities of the three terrorists. The Russian national, they added, is believed to have come to Turkey from Dagestan, a Muslim region that has become a hotbed of radical Islamist activity. As a sign of the global reach of Dagestan jihadists, one of the Tsarnaev brothers, the jihadists responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, visited Dagestan shortly before planning the attack.
The number of Russian nationals with ties to radical Islamist organizations, particularly ISIS, is believed to be in the thousands. The Russian region of Chechnya reportedly contributed more nationals to ISIS’s jihadi army than any other nation not actively an ISIS war zone, i.e., Iraq and Syria.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan also have large Muslim populations, though they have struggled less than Russia to curb jihadist activity within their borders.
The identification of one of the Istanbul attackers as Russian comes at a delicate time in Turkish-Russian relations. On Wednesday, both Turkish and Russian media outlets reported that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin were looking to schedule an in-person meeting to discuss bilateral relations. The countries have not enjoyed diplomatic relations since November, when the Turkish government killed a Russian pilot after he flew his jet into Turkish airspace without permission, one of several such incidents. Since then, Russia has repeatedly accused Erdogan of personally supporting the Islamic State and the Turkish government of buying Islamic State oil. In response, Turkey has accused Russia of buying ISIS oil.
Both parties have publicly stated they are interested in restoring diplomatic relations, however, and are expected to gradually work towards cooling tensions after Erdogan sent Putin a letter this week lamenting the jet incident.
In addition to the identification of the three attackers – which Turkish officials note required some time, given the diminished state of their remains – Turkey announced that it has executed multiple raids on Islamic State targets in Istanbul and southern Izmir city. Thirteen people have been arrested so far in Istanbul, ten of them Turkish nationals, and nine from Izmir.
Anadolu Agency has also reported that officials have identified a Chechen terrorist as the architect of the Istanbul attack. The report identifies the man as “Muhammed Arab,” killed last week by Turkish forces while trying to enter Syria.
Fox News, citing the pro-Turkish government newspaper Yeni Safak, identified an organizer of the attack as Chechen Islamic State terrorist Akhmed Chatayev. It notes that Turkish newspaper Hurriyet identified another man, Osman Vadinov, as an attacker, but the Turkish government has not confirmed whether either man was involved in the attack.
Three attackers opened fire in the Istanbul airport’s international terminal Tuesday night, armed with firearms and suicide vests. “One of them blew himself up outside, while the other two took advantage of the panic during gunfire to enter, and blew themselves up inside,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. Forty-three people were killed and dozens injured in the siege.