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Istanbul airport bombers planned to take hostages

The bombers began the assault early, instead of taking hostages, after attracting suspicion. Photograph: (Getty)

AFP Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey Jul 01, 2016, 01.10 PM (IST)
The suicide attackers who launched a deadly Istanbul airport assault were planning to take dozens of passengers hostage, Turkish media reported today, as CCTV images of the bombers' faces emerged.

Turkish officials have pointed fingers at the Islamic State for Tuesday night's gun and bomb attack at Ataturk airport, which left 44 people dead including 19 foreigners.

The private NTV network reported that Istanbul police had detained 11 suspected IS militants over the attack, in addition to 13 rounded up on Thursday and another nine arrested in the western port city of Izmir.

Officials say the men behind the latest in a series of deadly attacks to hit Turkey were of Russian, Uzbek and Kyrgyz nationalities.

Turkish media identified the mastermind of the airport attack as Akhmet Chatayev, a Chechen, adding that he had led an IS cell in Istanbul and found accommodation for the bombers. 

Chatayev allegedly organised two deadly bombings this year in the heart of the city's Sultanahmet tourist district and the busy Istiklal shopping street, the Hurriyet newspaper said.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported that the attackers scouted the scene and planned to take dozens of passengers hostage before carrying out a massacre.

However, they began the assault early after attracting suspicion, Sabah said.

CCTV images released by the police show the three alleged attackers arriving in dark coats over their suicide vests - clothing that was much too heavy for a hot summer night.

More images show a plainclothes police officer confronting one of the men by an elevator and asking to see his identification. The attacker pulls out a gun and shoots him. Turkey has been rocked by a series of attacks in the past year. IS jihadists or Kurdish rebels have been blamed.

The attack sparked global condemnation, with consuls from a dozen countries around Europe and beyond gathering at the airport today to lay flowers in memory of the victims.

Hundreds of mourners also gathered in Istanbul on Thursday for the funeral of popular 28-year-old teacher Huseyin Tunc, who was at the airport to welcome a friend.

"We still can't believe it," one of his pupils, Batuhan Karabey, said, adding, "He was more than a teacher to us - he was like a big brother, helping us a lot. Really, I can't believe it's true."

The Hurriyet newspaper reported that the bombers had rented a flat in Istanbul's Fatih district, home to many Syrians and other Arabs, and paid 24,000 Turkish Lira (7,500 Euros) in advance for a year's rent.

The police raided the apartment after the attack, according to a neighbour, who said the bombers kept the curtains drawn. She never saw the attackers, but she heard them, and complained to local neighbourhood officials about a strange smell.

"A very weird, chemical smell," she told Hurriyet, adding, "Police came after the bombing... I lived on top of the bomb."

Hurriyet also quoted a local plumber, identified only by his initials ES, who says one of the attackers came to his shop to ask if he could fix their tap.

"He spoke in broken Turkish. He took me home," the plumber said.

"I changed the tap. I saw three people inside. They looked like bandits. One always stood by me. I left after changing the tap. They paid me 20 Turkish Lira," ES said.

(AFP)
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