Closed-circuit video from Istanbul's main airport published Tuesday by Turkish media appears to show British journalist Jacqueline Sutton before she was found dead in an airport restroom and raises questions about reports that she killed herself after missing a flight.
In the first half of the video, a woman identified as Sutton by local media walks up to a security checkpoint and appears to show paperwork to two guards. She proceeds through the stop with a backpack and a shoulder bag. In the second half of the video, the woman is walking through the airport with the same bags -- but her shoulder bag now looks more full -- along with what appears to be a full shopping bag.
An airport shopping spree would appear to contrast with Turkish media reports that Sutton, 50, hanged herself on Saturday after missing a connecting flight and lacked money to buy a new ticket. Her friends question the explanation, along with the circumstances surrounding her death, and have called for an international investigation.
The videos released Tuesday were not verified by Turkish authorities, and are not time-stamped, so the exact sequence of events was unclear.
Sutton, a former BBC journalist who was Iraq director for the nonprofit Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was found dead in a restroom at Ataturk International Airport on Saturday after missing a connecting flight to Iraq. Turkish media reported, without citing sources, that Sutton became "distraught" that she didn't have money for a new ticket and hanged herself with shoelaces from a restroom door hook. The reports said she was discovered by three Russian tourists, who alerted police.
"It's all very weird," said Anthony Borden, executive director of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, a nonprofit group focused on expanding journalism in war-torn regions. "How a couple hundred bucks could enter into the equation is beyond me."
Borden described Sutton as a seasoned "globetrotter," a "strong, confident and fearless woman" who was very familiar with world travel and the delays that come along with it. If she had run out of money, she would know to call him, because she had done that in the past when other travel delays arose. Borden said she was traveling with her iPhone, credit cards and laptop -- which she would normally use to book a new flight if her connection was missed.
Sutton was a veteran journalist very familiar with the region. Before working for the nonprofit, Sutton held United Nations media positions, was a journalist with the BBC, and had been working toward a PhD at the Australian National University. Her university webpage says her research focused on supporting women journalists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sudipto Mukerjee, a friend who met Sutton about four years ago when he worked with the United Nations Development Program in Iraq, doubted she would even miss the flight, characterizing her as "anything but confused or forgetful."
"I also cannot imagine her not having money to buy another ticket – I am sure she carried credit cards and not to mention had a decent and steady income over many years," said Mukerjee, now the U.N. Development Program's Sierra Leone director.
"Unless there is clear evidence she committed suicide, she was definitely murdered," Hiwa Osman, a friend of Sutton's in Iraq and former media advisor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told The Telegraph. Sutton was bringing back toys and books for his children and that there was no indication she was unhappy, Osman said.
"I strongly urge and recommend an independent and fully transparent investigation," said Chris Cobb-Smith, director of Chiron Resources, a company that provides support and security advice for media, including Sutton's organization, in hostile environments. Cobb-Smith said he found Sutton to be "instantly likable," but had only met her once -- at a recent memorial service for Sutton's predecessor, Ammar Al Shahbander, who along with 15 others, died in a car bomb blast in Baghdad earlier this year.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Baghdad attack, according to Agence France-Presse.
Having spent nearly a decade in Iraq and some time in Afghanistan as well, Sutton appeared aware of potential threats. In a late-2014 interview with Sutton by friend Amanda Whitley, transcribed on an Australian blog, Sutton imagines the possibility of being attacked:
I’m in a hotel at the moment – a low key one with hardly any guests. The accommodation that had been prepared was basically one room and a bathroom above the office with only one door in and out, and that off the street. So if someone came in uninvited I was trapped and, as my Kurdish friends said, “It just needs one whacko to hear in the Friday prayers that killing foreigners is jihad, and they’ll come knocking at your door in a heartbeat.” Erbil has grown but everyone knows where the foreigners are staying. So I am going to stay in the hotel until next week when I will move in with some Kurdish friends who live in a gated community. If Daesh wants to attack they will but it will take planning and I won’t be THE target; if the whacko wants to get to heaven he or she will have to contend with armed guards and a choice of targets, and the same with criminal kidnappers – a growth industry in Iraq.
Sutton tells Whitley she was staying off social media to avoid drawing attention to herself and her colleagues.
Sutton's death remains under investigation.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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