The United States has named two Russian militants "specially designated global terrorists," linking them to deadly attacks by the Islamic State group. One of the two men reportedly is in custody in Turkey.
The State Department named the two global terrorists Wednesday as Aslan Avgazarovich Byutukaev, who is also known as Amir Khamzat, and Airat Vakhitov, who has a number of aliases, including Salman Bulgarsky.
Vakhitov, a Russian-speaking ethnic Tatar, was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and held at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba until 2004, when he was released and returned to Russia. VOA learned last week that Vakhitov was among a large group of suspects rounded up and detained in Istanbul on suspicion of involvement in a triple suicide-bomb attack at the city's airport on June 28.
Sources in Istanbul who know Vakhitov's family told VOA early Thursday that he was still in custody in connection with the devastating bomb attack, which killed 41 people and wounded 250 others.
Turkish authorities blamed Islamic State militants for the bombing, which killed more than a dozen foreign travelers, and they seized about 30 suspects within a few days — including Vakhitov, 39.
FILE - Russian Airat Vakhitov, a former Guantanamo detainee, speaks at a news conference in Moscow, June 28, 2005.
The State Department announcement naming Vakhitov
a global terrorist did not list his involvement in the Istanbul attack, but it was based on an executive order Secretary of State John Kerry issued on June 29, presumably before Vakhitov's presence in Turkey was known.
VOA's Fatima Tlisova reported that a Russian court cleared Vakhitov of terrorism charges soon after he was released from Guantanamo 12 years ago, but he later was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service on unspecified charges. Subsequently, he left Russia and renounced his Russian citizenship.
The second man named by U.S. authorities as a global terrorist, Byutukayev, reputedly has been Islamic State's leader in Chechnya and nearby Russian republics in the North Caucasus region for the past year. Most recently, he was linked to a major bomb attack planned in the republic of Ingushetia last November; that plot was foiled by Russian special forces who uncovered a large cache of explosives hidden on a roadside.
Prior to his activity on behalf of IS, U.S. officials say Byutukayev directed multiple suicide-bomb attacks against Russia and symbols of Russian power. Among these was an attack in January 2011 on the international arrivals hall at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport that killed 35 people and wounded over 100 others.
The State Department said Vakhitov has fought in Syria and recruits via the internet militants willing to travel to join Islamic State forces in the civil war there. However, members of the Russian-speaking diaspora in Turkey told VOA they had no knowledge of such activities by Vakhitov.
The global-terrorist designation by the U.S. State Department is intended to sound a worldwide alarm about Vakhitov's and Byutukayev's activities. It also prohibits any contact between the two men and American citizens, and freezes any assets they may have that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
VOA's Fatima Tlisova contributed to this report.