By Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler
ISTANBUL, June 30 – At least one of three suspected Daesh suicide bombers who killed 42 people at Istanbul airport is thought to be a foreigner but investigators are struggling to identify them from their limited remains, officials said on Thursday.
Police detained 13 people, three of them foreigners, in raids across Istanbul in connection with Tuesday night’s gun and bomb attack on Europe’s third-busiest airport, the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings in Turkey this year.
Counter-terrorism teams led by police special forces launched simultaneous raids at 16 locations in the city, two officials told Reuters. Turkish authorities have said they believe Daesh was behind the airport attack.
The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said the bombers were from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Dagestan in southern Russia, without naming its sources. Dagestan borders Chechnya, where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and religious militants since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
“We’re looking into the possibility of foreigners being involved. It is likely that at least one of them is a foreigner, but the investigation is still underway,” one of the officials said, declining to be named or to comment further because details of the investigation have not yet been released.
The Kyrgyz security service declined to comment, while the Uzbek security service could not immediately be reached.
Three bombers opened fire to create panic outside the airport in Tuesday’s attack, before two of them got inside and blew themselves up. The third detonated his explosives at the entrance. A further 239 people were wounded.
A second Turkish official also said it was probable that at least one bomber was a foreign national but that the three had not yet been identified due to “extensive soft-tissue damage”.
“A medical team is working around the clock to conclude the identification process,” the official said.
Yeni Safak said the organiser of the attack was suspected to be a man called Akhmed Chatayev, of Chechen origin. Chatayev is identified on a United Nations sanctions list as a leader in Daesh responsible for training Russian-speaking militants, and as wanted by Russian authorities.
The Hurriyet newspaper named one of the attackers as Osman Vadinov, also Chechen, and said he had come from Raqqa, the heart of Daesh-controlled territory in Syria.
Turkish officials did not confirm to Reuters that either Chatayev or Vadinov were part of the investigation.
Wars in neighbouring Syria and Iraq have fostered a home-grown Daesh network blamed for a series of suicide bombings in Turkey, including two this year targeting foreign tourists in the heart of Istanbul.
Daesh has established a self-declared caliphate on swathes of both Syria and Iraq and declared war on all non-Muslims plus Muslims who do not accept its ultra-hardline vision of Sunni Islam. It has claimed responsibility for similar bomb and gun attacks in Belgium and France in the past year.
Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance and part of the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh, has repeatedly fired back on the Sunni hardliners in recent months after rocket fire from northern Syria hit the border town of Kilis.
In a sign of the growing threats to Turkey, U.S. defence sources said on Wednesday that Washington was moving towards permanently banning families from accompanying U.S. military and civilian personnel deployed in the country.
Critics say Turkey woke up too late to the threat from Daesh, focusing instead in the early part of the Syrian civil war on trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad, arguing there could be no peace without his departure.
Once a reluctant partner in the fight against Daesh, Ankara adjusted its military rules of engagement this month to allow NATO allies to carry out more patrol flights along its border with Syria.
It has also carried out repeated raids on suspected Daesh safe houses in Turkey.
Nine suspected militants, thought to have been in contact with Daesh members in Syria, were detained in dawn raids in four districts of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir on Thursday, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
It said they were accused of financing, recruiting and providing logistical support to the group.
The military killed two suspected Daesh members trying to enter Turkey illegally at the weekend, security sources said on Thursday.
One of the suspects, a Syrian national, was thought to have been plotting a suicide bomb attack in either the capital Ankara or the southern province of Adana, home to Incirlik, a major base used by U.S. and Turkish forces through which some coalition air strikes against Daesh are carried out.