Istanbul airport attackers identified as Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationals

July 1, 2016 2:16 am

CCTV footage shows one of the men believed to be one of the bombers walking into the airport terminal alongside a pilot.

The three suicide bombers who attacked ’s Ataturk Airport
have been identified as nationals from Russia, Uzbekistan and
Kyrgyzstan, a senior Turkish official said.
Turkish authorities
did not release the names of the attackers, who staged a triple suicide
bombing at ’s biggest airport on Wednesday, killing 43 people and
wounding more than 230.
The identities exposed possible
connections between Islamic State cells and Turkey’s large communities
of workers and others from the Central Asia region. There has been no
claim of responsibility for the attack, but Turkish officials have said
they believe the Islamic State is behind the bloodshed.
Even as
the country reeled from the violence, the assault on one of the world’s
busiest airports – and a symbol of Turkey’s modern economy – threatened
to propel the country into a wider war with the jihadists.

Turkish police staged raids in at least two cities, detaining at least 13 suspects in connection with the attacks.
Counterterrorism
units raided 16 addresses in Istanbul and launched operations in the
coastal city of Izmir, according to Turkish officials and the state-run
Anadolu agency.
Three of those arrested in Istanbul are
foreign nationals. Another nine suspects were detained in Izmir for
providing logistical support to the Islamic State, but it was unclear if
they are directly tied to the attack.
But Turkish Prime Minister
Binali Yildirim said in a televised speech Thursday that the
government’s assertion that the Islamic State is responsible “continues
to gain weight.”

A second suicide bomber can be seen making his way through the terminal with what appears to be a gun.
Turkey’s Interior Minister Efkan Ala also said there was no
conclusive evidence, but early reports suggested the Sunni extremists
were behind the bloodshed.
“Every connection is being evaluated carefully,” the Associated Press quoted Ala as saying.
Two people injured in the attack later died, raising the death toll to 43, officials said. More than 230 people were injured.
On
Thursday, a senior Turkish official gave a timeline of the attack:
First, a militant detonated explosives in the arrivals area on the
ground floor of the international terminal. A second attacker exploded a
bomb minutes later in the departures area upstairs. Finally, a third
bomber detonated explosives in the parking area amid the chaos as people
fled to escape the attacks inside.
It was unclear at what point
security forces exchanged gunfire with the attackers, according to the
official’s timeline. But witnesses spoke of scenes of panic, fear and
wounded fellow travelers.
“It was chaos. No one was in charge,”
said Faisal Rashid, a 15-year-old who was travelling with his family
from Sweden to Iraq, where they are originally from. “We just ran, all
of us, outside. We didn’t know what we were doing – we just thought we
could die.”
The airport handles more than 60 million passengers each year and is a hub for Turkey’s official carrier, Turkish Airlines.

An entrance of the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul after the explosions. Photo / AP
“If the Islamic State is indeed behind this attack, this
would be a declaration of war,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the
Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy. “This attack is different: the scope, impact and deaths of
dozens in the heart of the country’s economic capital.
“It will have widespread ramifications,” he said.
Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has depicted himself as a strong,
conservative leader, “cannot afford to let this go,” Cagaptay added.
Turkey
has taken steps to battle the Islamic State, which grew strong amid the
bloody civil war in neighboring Syria. But critics have faulted Turkey
for its reluctance to take the fight to the extremists.
For
years, Turkish security forces turned a blind eye to the militants who
slipped across the border from Syria, where Islamist rebels and others
have been battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Turkey
wanted the Syrian leader to step down and also saw the militants as a
bulwark against Syria’s own autonomy-seeking Kurds. Turkey’s ethnic
Kurdish minority has long sought greater independence from the Turkish
state, and the rise of a Kurdish enclave in northern Syria worries
nationalist Turks, who fear it will inspire the Kurds in Turkey.
Fighters
gathering on the Turkish-Syrian border – many of whom eventually joined
the Islamic State – used Turkey as a crucial route for weapons,
recruits and supplies. Lax enforcement along the frontier allowed the
militants to develop sprawling networks inside Turkey, even as they
grabbed land across Syria and Iraq.

Security and rescue personnel gather outside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport. Photo / AP
And when the detente between Turkey and the militants came
to an end – when Turkey joined the U.S.-led coalition against the
Islamic State and opened its Incirlik Air Base to U.S. aircraft – the
networks were tapped for the new battle with the Turkish state.
The
Islamic State has either claimed or been blamed for at least five major
suicide attacks in Turkey in the past year, including the assault at
the airport and two other bombings in Istanbul this year.
Now, the two sides are edging toward full-fledged conflict, analysts say.
“They
went from a cold war to a limited war and are now moving towards
full-scale war,” Cagaptay said of Turkey and the Islamic State.
But
among the questions is whether Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally,
could actually escalate its role in the campaign in Syria.

Photographs of victims displayed among
carnations as family members, colleagues and friends gather for a
memorial ceremony at the Ataturk Airport. Photo / AP
Turkey’s airstrikes against Islamic State positions were
suspended after Moscow, responding to Turkey’s downing of a Russian jet
that Ankara said was flying over its territory last October, threatened
to shoot down Turkish planes over Syria. Since then, Turkey has flown
only surveillance and reconnaissance missions in its own airspace.
Russia intervened in Syria last fall to prop up Assad in the face of the rebel onslaught.
This
week, Erdogan met Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand for an
apology for the shoot-down. The two spoke by phone Wednesday, the
presidency here said, and Putin expressed his condolences for the
victims of the Istanbul airport attack.
If Turkey wanted to
engage with the Islamic State anywhere in northern Syria, “they cannot
do it without Russia’s blessing,” Cagaptay said.
But even as
Turkey mulls its options in the fight against the Islamic State, the
latest bloodshed “unfortunately suggests the beginning of the type of
attacks that are coming,” he said.
“The capability of the Islamic
State . . . is likely to continue to expand,” said Ege Seckin, an
analyst at IHS Country Risk, a political risk analysis firm.
And the size and nature of the militant cells in Turkey means preventing their attacks will be difficult, he added.

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