Former Guantanamo detainee from Russia arrested for links to Istanbul attack: Report
ISTANBULA former detainee at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay was one of the 30 suspects arrested over links to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport attack which killed 45 people and wounded hundreds, news outlet Voice of America has reported.
Airat Vakhitov, who was locked up at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for two years after being captured alongside Taliban militants in Afghanistan in 2001, was handed over to Russia in 2004 along with six other Russian citizens.
The suspect was released by a Russian court in 2004 after the prosecution failed to provide material evidence of his alleged terrorist activities.
After a brief two-month detention in 2005, Vakhitov reportedly renounced his Russian citizenship and sought refuge in the Middle East, though his current country of citizenship was unknown.
Voice of America quoted an anonymous source from the North Caucasian Muslim community inside Turkey to report that Vakhitov was arrested by an Istanbul court on July 5 for membership in an armed terrorist organization, as Turkish officials believed the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) carried out the attack on Istanbul’s main airport.
A spokesperson for the Association of the Russian-Speaking Mujahedeen in Turkey, also known as the Union of Honor, confirmed Vakhitov’s arrest to Voice of America, expressing his hopes that the suspect would soon be released.
“[Vakhitov] never fought in Syria or Iraq, he was never part of IS [ISIL], he was involved in humanitarian activities for the Syrian people,” spokesman Salman Sever told Voice of America.
Three bombers opened fire to create panic outside Istanbul Atatürk Airport before two of them got inside and blew themselves up on June 28. The third militant detonated his explosives outside the entrance to the international arrivals terminal.
Two of the suspected bombers were identified as Russian nationals, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Reports also stated the attackers planned to take dozens of people hostage inside the terminal and then blow themselves up together with the hostages. As they were countered by a police officer at the terminal’s entrance, the plot was not carried out as planned, reports added.
A total of 17 suspects, including 11 foreigners, were arrested by an Istanbul court on July 5 for links to the attack, raising the total number of detainees to 30.
According to the International Crisis Group, around 7,000 Russian-speaking Muslims live in Turkey, including some who fought against the Russian state in the North Caucasus.
The head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, released the names of 13 Chechen “terrorists” on his Instagram account on July 5, demanding their extradition from Ankara.