The tragic bombing in Turkey’s Istanbul airport has generated a lot of speculation about the attackers’ nationalities and who might be behind the attack.
A woman reacts as family members, colleagues and friends of the victims of Tuesday blasts gather for a memorial ceremony at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, June 30, 2016. Photo: AP
This week at least 42 were killed and over 230 more injured at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport as a result of an explosion caused by three suicide bombers and gunfire. Turkish Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on June 30 that Turkish police have been able to identify the terrorists who carried out the bombing on June 28.
According to the Turkish authorities, the three suicide bombers were nationals of three countries – Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Russia – who could have fought in Syria for the militant Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS). However, Russian law enforcement agencies have denied reports that one of the participants of the terror attack was Russian.
Who is Osman Vadinov?
According to the Turkish security services, the alleged Russian suicide bomber was Osman Vadinov, a Chechen from Russia's republic of Dagestan. On May 25, Vadinov came to Turkey from the Syrian city of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. He had previously visited Turkey in 2015 with the aim of recruiting new ISIS members.
However, Russian law enforcement agencies have denied the information about Vadinov's Chechen origin. “A man named Osman Vadinov has never lived in Chechnya. Moreover, this is not a Chechen name and surname,” a source in law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus Federal District told Russia's Interfax news agency.
Who is Ahmet Chatayev?
Vadinov is not the only “Russian national” whose name has surfaced in the Turkish media in connection with the recent attack in Istanbul. The Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak, citing a source in the Turkish security service, named another Russian national from Chechnya as a possible organizer of the terrorist attack – Akhmet Chatayev, a former member of the Caucasus Emirate terrorist organization. In 2014, after the death of Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov, he joined the Islamic State.
The web portal Kavkaz Uzel (“Caucasus Hub”) reported that Chatayev has been wanted since 2003 by Russia's law enforcement agencies, which described him as Umarov's representative in Europe. In 2012, Chatayev was detained by the Georgian military during a special operation in the Lopota Gorge in Georgia, but in January 2013 a Tbilisi court acquitted him. In 2014, it emerged that Chatayev was in Turkey.
How many Russians are fighting in Syria for ISIS?
It is quite difficult to say exactly how many Russian citizens are fighting for ISIS since precise data is not available. In September 2015, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev cited an official figure of 1,800. These are basically Russian Muslims from the North Caucasus and the Volga region, with the majority of Russians who leave to fight in Syria for ISIS hailing from Dagestan.
In June 2015, Caucasus Emirate fighters swore allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Since that time, the number of Russians in the ranks of ISIS has increased.
Also read Russia Direct report: "Terrorism: Inside Russia's Syria campaign and the global fight against extremism"
Who is behind Istanbul’s airport bombing?
For now, no one has claimed responsibility for the terrorist act. The Turkish authorities presume that ISIS organized the attack, stating that all evidence points to the terrorist organization.
There are also theories that the terrorist act could have been orchestrated by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (a Kurdish separatist group that Turkey, the U.S. and the EU recognize as a terrorist organization).
The head of the Russian Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, Konstantin Kosachev, has even written on his Facebook page that the terrorist attack in Istanbul is a response to Ankara's attempts to re-establish relations with Moscow. However, Russian and Turkish experts see no clear link between this event and Russia and say that it is more related to the Syrian crisis and the improvement of relations between Turkey and Israel.
It is all about Syria
After the attack on Ataturk airport some voiced their concerns that the attack could have been organized in response to the emerging normalization of Russia-Turkey relations. According to Yury Mavashev, Middle East and Turkey scholar and expert at the Caucasus Geopolitical Club, it’s too soon to link the event with the normalization of Russian-Turkish relations. “It’s obvious that the terrorist act, in which at least one Russian person died, is not a provocation to compromise bilateral relations,” suggests Mavashev.
Kerim Khas, Eurasian politics expert at the International Organization of Strategic Studies independent analytical center (USAK) in Ankara, agrees with Mavashev: “I don't see a direct connection between the terrorist act in Istanbul and the measures that Ankara has taken to normalize relations with Russia,” he said. “The attack is related to the fact that ISIS is experiencing serious losses in Syria as a result of the operation carried out by the coalition forces. The radicals just want to frighten Turkey.”
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At the same time experts see a possible link between the tragedy and Ankara’s intention to re-establish relations with Tel Aviv. On June 27, the number one topic in the Turkish mass media was the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel after a six-year crisis caused by the incident with the Freedom Flotilla [an incident involving a 2010 Israeli raid on a flotilla headed from Turkey that was attempting to break the Gaza blockade – Editor’s note]. The terrorist attack in Istanbul has given rise to theories that it is linked to the Israeli issue.
“This probability should not be excluded,” argues Mavashev. “Turkey’s rapprochement with Israel could have spurred the terrorists to commit the crime in the international airport in Istanbul, given Turkey’s former position in relation to those who are fighting Israel, regardless of the methods. The terrorists could have once again reminded Turkey of their existence.”
This article is based on two pieces that originally appeared at RBTH: