Istanbul airport attackers 'planned to take hostages'

In this screengrab from CCTV video footage, the three men believed to be the attackers are seen walking in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport on Tuesday dressed in heavy clothing much too warm for summer.
In this screengrab from CCTV video footage, the three men believed to be the attackers are seen walking in Istanbul's Ataturk Airport on Tuesday dressed in heavy clothing much too warm for summer.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz national changed plans as they drew attention

ISTANBUL • The suicide attackers involved in the deadly Istanbul airport assault were planning to take dozens of passengers hostage, Turkish media reported yesterday, as CCTV footage of the bombers emerged.

Images released by police show the three alleged attackers arriving at the airport, wearing dark coats over their suicide vests - excessive clothing for a hot summer night.

More images show a plainclothes police officer confronting one of the men by a lift and asking to see his identification. The attacker pulls out a gun and shoots him.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that the attackers had scouted the scene and planned to take dozens of passengers hostage before carrying out a massacre. But they began the assault early after attracting suspicion, Sabah said.

Turkish officials have blamed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group for Tuesday night's gun and bomb spree at Ataturk Airport, which left 44 people dead.

The private NTV network reported that Istanbul police had detained 11 suspected ISIS militants in relation to the attack, in addition to 13 rounded up on Thursday and another nine in the western port city of Izmir.

Officials say the men behind the latest in a series of deadly attacks to hit Turkey were a Russian, an Uzbek and a Kyrgyz national.

Turkish media identified the mastermind of the airport attack as Akhmet Chatayev, a Chechen, saying he had led an ISIS cell in Istanbul and found accommodation for the bombers. Chatayev allegedly organised two deadly bombings this year in the heart of the Sultanahmet tourist district and the busy Istiklal shopping street, the Hurriyet newspaper said.

The attack sparked global condemnation, with consuls from a dozen countries around Europe and beyond gathering at the airport yesterday to lay flowers in memory of the victims.

The international airport was back to being a hive of activity yesterday. Many travellers were snapping selfies in front of bullet-shattered windows.

Ms Nazife Yurtcu, who lives in Germany, flew to Istanbul on Thursday to visit family members in spite of security worries. "I was reassured to see more police at the entrances and exits," she said.

Hurriyet reported that the bombers had rented a flat in Istanbul's Fatih district, home to many Syrians and other Arabs, and paid 24,000 Turkish lira (S$11,200) in advance for a year's rent.

An upstairs neighbour said she never saw the attackers, but she heard them, and complained to neighbourhood officials about a strange smell. "A very weird, chemical smell," she told Hurriyet. "Police came after the bombing... I lived on top of the bomb."

Meanwhile, Germany yesterday warned its citizens to exercise particular caution if they travel to Turkey, a day after Moscow lifted restrictions on tourism to Turkey following Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's apology for the downing of a Russian warplane by Ankara last November.

In a sign of improving ties, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu yesterday on the sidelines of a regional conference in the Russian city of Sochi.

Speaking to reporters later, Mr Cavusoglu said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr Erdogan may meet next month.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2016, with the headline 'Istanbul airport attackers 'planned to take hostages''. Print Edition | Subscribe