A Chechen extremist masterminded the triple suicide bombing at an airport in Istanbul that killed at least 44 people, a US congressman said.
Michael McCaul, chairman of the house committee on homeland security, told CNN that Akhmed Chatayev directed Tuesday night’s attack at Ataturk Airport, one of the world’s busiest, which also wounded more than 230.
Turkish and Swedish media have also identified Chatayev as the organiser, although Turkish officials have not confirmed his involvement.
Sabah newspaper, which is close to the government, said police had launched a manhunt to catch him.
Mr McCaul said it is unclear where Chatayev is, but he is known to have served as a top lieutenant in the Islamic State (IS) group’s war ministry.
Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, the IS group is suspected, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated IS was “most probably” behind it.
The group has boasted of having cells in Turkey, among other countries.
“They have no connection to Islam. Their place is in hell,” Mr Erdogan said.
Authorities said the three suicide bombers in the attack — which echoed the carnage earlier this year at the Brussels airport — were from Russia and the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. They did not provide further details on their identities.
Thirteen people suspected of possible links to the attack were detained in raids in three Istanbul neighbourhoods on Thursday, officials said.
Haber Turk newspaper said 11 more suspects — all of them foreign nationals — were detained in a separate raid on a house in Istanbul early yesterday. A government official in Istanbul could not immediately confirm the report.
The IS group, which has used Turkey to establish itself in neighbouring Syria and Iraq, has repeatedly threatened Turkey in its propaganda, and Nato member Turkey has blamed IS for several major bombings in the past year in both Ankara and Istanbul.
Turkey’s interior minister said the explosives used were a mix of RDX, TNT and PETN that were “manufactured,” which chemist and explosives expert at University of Rhode Island, Jimmie Oxley, described as being military-grade, raising the question of how the attackers obtained the bombs.
Swedish authorities said Chatayev was convicted of weapons smuggling in 2008.
The 35-year-old was sentenced to 16 months for smuggling an automatic weapon and two handguns with munition and silencers into Sweden in on March 3, 2008. Court documents obtained by The Associated Press show Chatayev had arrived by ferry boat from Germany.
He and two others in the car said they were heading to Norway to go fishing and meet friends. The documents show he denied knowing about the guns hidden in a spare wheel in the boot. A local paper said he was freed from prison in January 2009.