Turkish authorities have said all information suggested the Tuesday night attack on Ataturk Airport, one of the world’s busiest, was the work of IS, which boasted this week of having cells in Turkey, among other countries.
The police raided 16 locations in three neighborhoods on both the Asian and European sides of Istanbul, rounding up 13 people suspected of having links to the Islamic State group.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility by the militant group, which has used Turkey as a crossing point to establish itself in neighboring Syria and Iraq. IS has repeatedly threatened Turkey in its propaganda publications, and the NATO member has blamed IS for several major bombings in the past year in both Ankara and Istanbul.
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because government regulations did not authorize him to talk to the media, said the attackers were from Russia and the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. He could not confirm media reports that the Russian was from the restive Dagestan region in the Caucasus mountains.
A medical team was working around theclock to identify the attackers, the official said, noting their bodies had suffered extensive damage.
Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry denied that an attacker came from that country, saying its representatives had talked to Turkish officials who said the identities were still to be determined.
Asked about the possible involvement of a Russian in the attacks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no information on the issue.
There was no comment from Uzbekistan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that between 5,000 and 7,000 people from Russia and other nations of the former Soviet Union have joined the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
Many Muslims from Russia’s southern region of Chechnya have settled in Turkey since the time of the Chechen separatist wars, and Moscow has repeatedly accused Turkey of failing to cooperate in tracking down suspected terrorists.
People from Chechnya and other provinces in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region have had a visible presence among Islamic State fighters. Tarkhan Batirashvili, who took the nom de guerre Omar al Shishani, or Omar the Chechen, an ethnic Chechen from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, rose to the rank of a senior IS commander before he died of wounds suffered in a U.S. airstrike in Syria earlier this year. Al-Shishani served as a magnet for jihadi fighters from the former Soviet Union.
Turkish state media said the death toll in the attack rose to 44 after a 25-year-old airport worker succumbed to his wounds.
Interior Minister Efkan Ala said the dead included 19 foreigners. Dozens from the 230 people initially reported wounded are still hospitalized.
Two memorial services for victims were held at the airport, one of them honoring taxi drivers slain in the attack. Five funerals were held elsewhere, including for four members of the Amiri family.
Abdulmumin Amiri escaped death because he went to look for a taxi while his relatives watched their luggage. “At that time, the bomb went off,” he told The Associated Press. “I was about four or five meters away.”
Nilsu Ozmeric wept over the coffin of her fiancee, Jusuf Haznedaroglu, a 32-year-old airport worker who was fatally wounded in the attack while waiting for a bus to go home.
“The wedding was next week,” sobbed his mother, Cervinye Haznedaroglu, as visitors offered condolences.
In Paris, Deputy Mayor Bruno Julliard said the Eiffel Tower would be illuminated in the red and white colors of the Turkish flag to honor the victims in Istanbul and as “a reminder of the unbreakable support” of his city.
Unconfirmed details of the attack flooded Turkish media. The private Dogan news agency said the Russian attacker had entered the country one month ago and left his passport in a house the men had rented in the neighborhood of Fatih.
The Karar newspaper, quoting police sources, said the three attackers were part of a seven-member cell that entered Turkey on May 25. The assailants raised suspicions of airport security on the day of the attack because they wore winter jackets on a summer day, media reported.
Turkish media also praised police officer Yasin Duma as a hero. He was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with one of the attackers and reportedly saved many lives by shouting, “Bomb!” and alerting others to get away.
Turkey’s interior minister said the explosives were a mix of RDX, TNT and PETN that were “manufactured.” That combination is military-grade, raising the question of how the attackers obtained the bombs, said Jimmie Oxley, a chemist and explosives expert at the University of Rhode Island.
The Dogan news agency broadcast video of the Istanbul police raids showing a special forces team carrying what appeared to be a steel shield to protect it as it entered a building.
In separate police operations, nine suspects believed to be linked to the IS group were also detained in the coastal city of Izmir. It was not clear if the suspects had any links to the airport attack.
The Izmir raids unfolded simultaneously in the neighborhoods of Konak, Bucak, Karabaglar and Bornova, according to the Anadolu Agency. Police seized three hunting rifles and documents relating to IS.
The report said the suspects were in contact with IS militants in Syria and were engaged in “activities that were in line with the organization’s aims and interests,” including providing financial sources, recruits and logistical support.
On June 25, security forces killed two suspected IS militants trying to cross the border illegally after they ignored orders to stop, local media reported. One of the two militants was wanted on suspicion that he was planning a suicide attack in Ankara or the southern city of Adana, Anadolu said.