By Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers who killed 42 people in a gun and bomb attack at Istanbul airport this week were from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, a Turkish government official said on Thursday.
The attack on Europe’s third-busiest airport was the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings in Turkey this year.
The three bombers opened fire to create panic outside, before two of them got inside the terminal building and blew themselves up. The third detonated his explosives at the entrance. A further 239 people were wounded.
The official gave no further details beyond confirming the attackers’ nationalities and declined to name them because details of the investigation have not yet been released. Investigators had been struggling to identify the bombers from their limited remains, officials said earlier.
“A medical team is working around the clock to conclude the identification process,” one of the officials said.
The pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said the Russian bomber was from Dagestan, which borders Chechnya, where Moscow has led two wars against separatists and religious militants since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
The Kyrgyz security service declined to comment, while the Uzbek security service could not immediately be reached.
Turkish police detained 13 people, three of them foreigners, in raids across Istanbul in connection with Tuesday night’s attack.
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 Islamic State was behind the airport attack.
Yeni Safak said the organizer 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 Islamic State 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 Islamic State-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 Islamic State network blamed for a series of suicide bombings in Turkey, including two others this year targeting foreign tourists in the heart of Istanbul.
Islamic State 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 Islamic State, 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. defense sources said on Wednesday that Washington was moving toward 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 Islamic State, 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 Islamic State, Ankara adjusted its military rules of engagement in June to allow NATO allies to carry out more patrol flights along its border with Syria.
It has also carried out repeated raids on suspected Islamic State safe houses in Turkey.
Nine suspected militants, thought to have been in contact with Islamic State 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 Islamic State 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 Islamic State are carried out.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, Olzhas Auyezov in Astana; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by David Stamp)