TBILISI, DFWatch–The terrorist attack at Istanbul Atatürk Airport on 28 June, which claimed the lives of 44 victims and three suicide bombers and left 239 people wounded, is believed to have been organized by Akhmed Chatayev, a Russian national with connections to Georgia.
The Turkish government said the three male suicide bombers, who were believed to be members of the terrorist group Islamic State, were Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek nationals. The government did not confirm that Chatayev was part of the investigation.
Thursday morning, Turkish police detained 13 people, including four foreigners, in simultaneous raids in sixteen locations in Istanbul in connection with Tuesday night’s attack. The broadcaster CNN Türk said the detainees are accused of providing logistical support for the bombings.
According to the conservative pro-government Turkish daily Yeni Şafak, one of the bombers has been identified as Osman Vadinov, from the North Caucasian republic of Dagestan. Yeni Şafak further reported that the man behind the attacks was Akhmed Chatayev, a Russian national of Chechen origin with links to Georgia.
The website further reports that text accompanying a video posted online in February 2015 featuring Chatayev and Atabiyev indicated that Chatayev was the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen faction of IS. In the video, Chatayev greeted militants in Dagestan who in December 2012 pledged allegiance to IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and said that the IS in Syria rejoiced when it heard the news about their pledges. The video also shows Chatayev calling on those militants in Chechnya who had not yet declared their allegiance to the IS to do so.
In 2015, the United States Treasury Department included Chatayev on its list of individuals affiliated with IS, or Daesh as the terror group is also known. According to the State Department’s website, as of mid-2015, Chatayev was a member of IS and was part of a group of militants that was planning attacks against U.S. and Turkish facilities.
Chatayev made the headlines in Georgia after a shootout in August 2012 between police and militants in the north of Georgia near the Dagestani section of the Russian border, which claimed the lives of at least 14 people. After witnesses testified against him, Chatayev surrendered to police in September, but was released by the Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office. In the trial, he pleaded not guilty, and in December the same year Tbilisi City Court acquitted him.
According to an investigation conducted by the Georgian Public Defender’s Office, at the time of the shootout, Chatayev was a member of a group of Chechen militants brought to Georgia by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in March 2012 and offered training, equipment, and a safe passage to Chechnya. When the militants demanded a passage in August, the MIA launched an ‘anti-terrorist operation’, which led to the fatal shootout. Chatayev survived, but lost his leg due to injuries he sustained. He testified in court that his group was trying to enter Russia from the Georgian side, not the other way around, which was the claim made by the government of then President Saakashvili’s National Movement Party.
The one-legged terrorist was detained in Ukraine a few years earlier. Russia wanted him extradited on terrorism charges, but the extradition request was rejected.
Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani said Thursday that she was against his release in December 2012 and that the former chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili was to blame.
“As Georgia’s minister of justice, I was against his release from prison. My position was that the Prosecutor General’s Office should pay more attention to the issue of releasing such prisoners, but at the time, the Prosecutor’s Office had only recently been freed from [the influence of] politics and pressure from [former justice minister] Zurab Adeishvili. It happened under [former Chief Prosecutor] Archil Kbilashvili,” Tsulukiani said.