By Mariya Cheresheva
A Bulgarian judge said that a Bulgarian court five years ago refused to extradite the suspected brains behind the terrorist attack at Istanbul airport to Russia because he had obtained refugee status in Austria.
Bulgarian police detained the suspected mastermind behind the recent Istanbul airport bombing in 2011 on the border with Turkey, as Russia wanted him for “participation in an armed group and for the recruitment of persons for terrorism and for financing terrorism”, a Bulgarian judge told Bulgarian national radio on Friday.
However, the Bulgarian courts refused to extradite him, saying his refugee status, which Austria granted him in 2003, remained valid in all countries that were signatories to the Geneva Convention, which included Bulgaria.
Akhmad Chatayev, who comes from Chechnya in the North Caucasus region of Russia, is accused of being the brains behind the massacre at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, which left 43 people dead and over 240 seriously wounded on Tuesday.
Following reports in the Turkish media who claimed that the man who planned the attack was nicknamed “Akhmad the One-Armed”, Michael McCaul, chairman of the US House Committee on Homeland Security, confirmed the information to CNN.
Chatayev was on the US, Interpol, UN and Russian lists of suspected terrorists as a top ISIS recruiter for Europe and the North Caucasus.
He has been wanted in Russia since 2008 as a suspect for recruiting extremists and fundraising for a terrorist organization.
A court in the south Bulgarian city of Haskovo at first allowed his extradition to Russia, but this decision was later annulled by an appeal court in Plovdiv. He was then released and sent back to Austria.
Numerous international rights groups, including Amnesty International and the Anna Politkovskaya Fund, had called on the Bulgarian authorities to release him.
Three other countries – Ukraine, Sweden and Georgia – also arrested Chatayev and later refused to extradite him to Russia, his former Bulgarian lawyer Veselin Georgiev told BTV on Friday.
Chatayev was detained in Georgia after a clash between alleged militants and security forces in which 14 people were killed. A court declared him innocent in January 2013.
The Turkish authorities still have not announced the names of all the suspects behind Tuesday’s airport massacre, but have said the three suicide bombers were citizens of Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyztan.
Turkish media have reported that the three men arrived in Istanbul to commit the well-planned terror attack straight from Syria