Home inContext Police Detain Islamic State Suspects Linked to Istanbul Bombings

Police Detain Islamic State Suspects Linked to Istanbul Bombings

Eliana Amundson
A worker cleaning a wall in Ataturk airport in Istanbul Wednesday. (Photo: AP)

Turkish police arrested 13 people on Thursday morning during a series of raids targeting Islamic State cells in 16 Istanbul locations. The arrests followed a terror attack that killed 43 people, and injured 239 others on Tuesday night at the Ataturk International Airport. The incident marks the fifth suicide bombing in Istanbul this this year, and the eighth in Turkey as a whole.

The assailants arrived to the airport via taxi, and opened up fire in the arrival hall of the terminal’s entrance. When police began firing back, the three assailants detonated suicide vests: one blast occurring on the ground floor of international arrivals, one in the entrance to the first floor of international departures, and the third at a nearby parking lot. Security camera footage shows the exchange of fire and the deadly explosions, followed by hundreds of civilians running to escape the ensuing chaos.

Turkish Health Minister Recep Akdag said Wednesday that 128 people remain hospitalized. Those killed included 13 foreigners: six from Saudi Arabia, and others from Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, China, Jordan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

No group has claimed credit for the attack, but Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim predicted that ISIS would be proven responsible. Analysis cited in the Washington Post said that the violence has the hallmarks of an ISIS operation, including the use of suicide bombers to randomly target civilians at a major transportation center, similar to the attack at the Brussels airport in March. CIA Director John Brennan said that Islamic State does not often claim credit for attacks inside Turkey, as it could alienate prospective recruits inside the country.  By contrast, Kurdish militant groups have also carried out recent killings in Turkey, but normally strike governmental targets.

According to CNN, the three attackers—from Russia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan—arrived in Turkey about a month ago from Raqqa, Syria, Islamic State’s de facto capital. A Chechen man living in Syria, Akhmed Chatayev, was thought to have trained at least one of the terrorists.

Ataturk Airport is the 11th busiest airport in the world, and is known for requiring its 60 million travelers a year to pass through double security checkpoints, one before entering the terminal, and again after going through passport control. Law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes calls it “one of the most secure airports in the world,” however the popular travel destination has been, “very overwhelmed for several decades with terrorism.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a national day of mourning, and called for international unity to join forces in the fight against terrorism.