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Chechen's suspected in Istanbul Airport attack

By Tea Mariamidze
Monday, July 4
United States Congressman Michael McCaul says that Chechen Akhmed Chatayev is suspected of planning the June 28 terrorist attack in Istanbul.

Citing Turkish intelligence sources, Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told CNN that Chechen Akhmed Chatayev was behind the attack on the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport which left 44 people killed and 239 injured.

McCaul said it is unclear where Chatayev is now, but he is known to have served as a top lieutenant in the Islamic State 'war ministry'.

“He's...probably the No. 1 enemy in the Northern Caucasus region of Russia. He's travelled to Syria on many occasions and became one of the top lieutenants for the minister of war for ISIS operations," McCaul told CNN.

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Daesh, also known as ISIS or the Islamic State, is suspected of being responsible, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated on July 1.

In the early 2000s, Chatayev fought against Russian forces in the second Chechen war. In 2008, a Russian court sentenced him to prison for his membership in an illegally armed group. However, Chatayev's political asylum in Austria, which he was granted while on the run from Russia in 2003, prevented his extradition.

Moreover, he was arrested in Sweden in March 2008 and spent one year in prison there for possessing weapons that had been found in a car he was using with other Chechens.

Chatayev had been twice arrested at the behest of Russia: first in Ukraine in 2010 and again a year later on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. However, his refugee status continued to prevent his being sent to Russia. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, worked on his behalf.

Also known as Akhmed al-Shishani and 'The One-Armed Man', Chatayev was arrested in Georgia in 2012 during the Lopota incident, a conflict between armed Islamist Chechen militants and Georgian security forces. 14 people died in the incident, including three members of Georgian Special Forces and 11 members of the armed group. However, Chatayev was released by the Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office after the change of government. In the trial, he pleaded not guilty, and in December the same year Tbilisi City Court acquitted him.

According to Russian security forces, Chatayev joined the Islamic State in Turkey in 2015. In October, the US Treasury Department included him on its list of individuals affiliated with IS.

Former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page that he opposed Chatayev’s release by the new Georgian government but was overruled. He said Chatayev was treated as a political prisoner by many government leaders.

“After the change of government in 2012, the new Georgian government, led by oligarch Ivanishvili, promptly freed him, as many of the new government leaders proclaimed him a political prisoner,” Saakashvili’s post reads.

Georgia’s Justice Minister, Tea Tsulukiani said that she was against Chatayev’s release in December 2012 and that the former chief prosecutor Archil Kbilashvili was to blame.

“As Georgia’s Minister of Justice, I was against his release from prison. My position was that the Prosecutor General’s Office should pay more attention to the issue of releasing such prisoners,” she stated.

According to Abufet Mihadinov, representative of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry, one of the leaders of ISIS Ahmed Chatayev received Georgia’s citizenship before leaving for Syria.

“We have been informed that Chatayev was arrested in Europe many times as well as in Ukraine. The latter extradited him to Georgia where he lived and received Georgia’s citizenship. In 2015 he appeared in Syria,” the official said.

Despite Erdogan's public suspicions, Turkish officials have not confirmed Chatayev's involvement in planning Ataturk Airport massacre.