(TBILISI) – Georgia’s State Security Service (SSS) head, Vakhtang Gomelauri, refused to cast doubt on recent reports that a noted ISIS terrorist was killed in last week’s anti-terror operation that took place in the nation’s capital Tbilisi.
Georgia’s Security Head Believes ISIS Leader Among Those Killed in Tbilisi Raid
By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Tuesday, November 28
Gomelauri said Monday that he has “a strong suspicion” that Chechen-born Akhmed Chatayev - a member of ISIS’ leadership who planned a deadly attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in June 2016, which claimed 48 lives and wounded hundreds of others, is among those killed in a deadly 22-hour raid last week that took place on the outskirts of the Georgian capital.
Law enforcement agencies have yet to identify the three suspects killed in the November 22operation.
Born in Vedeno - the same town as notorious Chechen militant Shamil Basayev - Chatayev was a battle hardened veteran of the 1999-2001 Second Chechen War, where he lost an arm fighting Russian troops. He later fled to Austria and is believed to have helped recruit and finance volunteers to join Doku Umarov, Basayev’s successor, and help carve out an Islamic state in the North Caucasus.
Chatayev was later arrested on several occasions, including in Sweden and Ukraine, for weapons possession and suspected links to terrorist groups.
Following his arrest in Ukraine, he was deported to Georgia where he took up refuge in the same home village where Tarkhan Batirashvili came from – the Chechen native of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge who would later gain international attention as ISIS’ main field commander using his nom de guerre, Abu Omar al-Shishani.
While in Pankisi, Chatayev was picked up by Georgia’s security services during a 2012 anti-terror operation near Georgia’s border with the North Caucasian region Dagestan. Acting first as a go-between for the Georgian government and the Chechen militants holed up in a mountain compound, Chatayev later switched sides and joined the armed terror group.
He lost his leg in the ensuing raid, but was later released after prosecutors determined there was a lack of evidence to try him for terrorist activities.
By 2015, several local media outlets identified Chatayev as having joined ISIS in Syria.
In the days since the November 22 operation, Georgia’s opposition parties have demanded an explanation from Justice Minister Tea Tsulukiani and Gomelauri about how Chatayev- if his body is positively identified as one of the members of the terror cell that was liquidated in last week’s operation - could have re-appeared in Georgia after his links to ISIS were known by the security services and international law enforcement officials.