The suicide attackers who launched the deadly Istanbul airport assault were planning to take
dozens of passengers hostage, Turkish media reported today, as CCTV of the bombers’ faces emerged.
Turkish officials have pointed blame at the Islamic State jihadist group for Tuesday night’s gun and bomb spree at Ataturk airport, which left 44 people dead including 19 foreigners.
“They say they are doing this in the name of Islam,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Istanbul.
“That has nothing to do with Islam. Their place is in hell.”
State-run news agency Anadolu said 24 people had been detained in Istanbul in a string of raids over the attack over the past two days, including 15 foreigners.
Nine other suspected jihadists were rounded up in the western port city of Izmir, but officials declined to confirm a link with the bloodshed in Istanbul.
Officials say the three men who carried out the latest in a series of deadly attacks to hit Turkey were a Russian, an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz national.
Turkish media identified the strike’s organiser as Akhmet Chatayev, the Chechen leader of an IS cell in Istanbul who reportedly found accommodation for the bombers.
Chatayev allegedly organised two deadly bombings this year in the heart of the city’s Sultanahmet tourist district and the busy Istiklal shopping street, the Hurriyet newspaper
Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, described Chatayev as “probably the number one enemy in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia”.
“He’s travelled to Syria on many occasions and became one of the top lieutenants for the minister of war for ISIS operations,” McCaul told CNN.
The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that the attackers scouted the scene and planned to take dozens of passengers hostage inside before carrying out a massacre.
But they began the assault early after attracting suspicion, Sabah said.
CCTV images released by police show the three alleged attackers arriving, wearing dark coats over their suicide vests – clothing that was much too heavy for a hot summer night.
More images show a plainclothes police officer confronting one of the men by an elevator and asking to see his identification. The attacker pulls out a gun and shoots him.