Local jihadists first began disappearing from Russia and the North Caucasus region just months before the opening ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. In some cases, human rights groups say, Russian security forces tracked the militants down and dumped their bodies on the side of the road as a warning.
In other cases, Muslim fighters were escorted to the border or were allowed to escape house arrest on the condition they leave Russia entirely. Not long after that purge, Russian-speaking fighters began appearing regularly in ISIS propaganda videos.
This history is important because Turkish officials say the three suicide bombers who attacked Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport last week, killing more than 40 people and wounding hundreds of others, were citizens of Russia and possibly from one of the former Soviet republics. If that proves to be accurate, it would mark the first time ISIS has tapped its Russian-speaking fighters to attack abroad.
U.S. counterterrorism officials say it shouldn’t be a surprise. Thousands of fighters have left Russia and the former Soviet republics to join ISIS. Moscow claims some 5,000 Russians have joined ISIS; U.S. officials say the number is probably closer to several thousand. Either way, it means that Russian-speakers make up large portion of the terrorist group.
U.S. intelligence officials briefed on the Turkish investigation tell NPR they believe the three suicide bombers were among two dozen young men who went into Turkey from Raqqa, Syria, about a month ago. Three militants armed with assault rifles and suicide bombs stormed Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport
Two of the three assailants in the terror attack that killed 44 people at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport have been identified as Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu, citing an anonymous prosecution source.
Three militants armed with assault rifles and suicide bombs stormed Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport on June 28, killing 44 people. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Turkish officials say they believe it was the work of the Islamic State group.
The group, which has used the porous border with Turkey to establish itself in neighboring Syria and Iraq, has repeatedly threatened Turkey. In turn, Turkey has blamed IS for several major bombings in the past year in Ankara and Istanbul.
In total, 29 suspects have been detained in connection to the attack, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. It said 16 individuals suspected of involvement in the airport attack, including 11 foreigners, were sent to the Istanbul court of Bakirkoy on Monday after undergoing medical checks.
There has been speculation that Akhmed Chatayev, a Chechen extremist known to to be a top lieutenant in the IS militant group, may have masterminded the attack, but Turkish officials haven’t confirmed his involvement. One official said the bombers were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.