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36 dead in suicide attacks on Istanbul airport, Turkish PM blames IS

It is the deadliest of four attacks to rock Turkey’s biggest city this year, with two others blamed on IS and another claimed by a militant Kurdish group.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2016 09:10 IST
A Turkish police officer directs a passenger at Ataturk airport in Istanbul June 28, 2016 after two explosions followed by gunfire hit Turkey's biggest airport, killing at least 36 people dead.
A Turkish police officer directs a passenger at Ataturk airport in Istanbul June 28, 2016 after two explosions followed by gunfire hit Turkey's biggest airport, killing at least 36 people dead. (AFP)

A triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport has killed at least 36 people, including foreigners, with Turkey’s prime minister saying early signs pointed to an assault by the Islamic State group.

The attackers began spraying bullets at the international terminal entrance before blowing themselves up at around 10:00 pm (1900 GMT) Tuesday, Turkish authorities said.

It is the deadliest of four attacks to rock Turkey’s biggest city this year, with two others blamed on IS and another claimed by a militant Kurdish group.

Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s carnage, “the evidence points to Daesh,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told journalists at the scene, using another name for the jihadists.

He said the dead included foreigners, but gave no further details.

The attack prompted the suspension of all flights at the airport -- one of Europe’s busiest hubs -- although Yildirim said traffic would resume at 3:00 am Wednesday (0000 GMT).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an international “joint fight” against terror, as Western allies including the United States condemned the “heinous” attack.

Yildirim said the suicide bombers had arrived in a taxi and opened fire on passengers with automatic rifles before blowing themselves up.

Forensic police work the explosion site at Ataturk airport on June 28, 2016 in Istanbul after two explosions followed by gunfire hit Turkey's biggest airport. (AFP)

Security camera footage widely circulated on social media appeared to capture two of the blasts. In one clip a huge ball of flame erupts at an entrance to the terminal building, scattering terrified passengers.

Another video shows a black-clad attacker running inside the building before collapsing to the ground -- apparently felled by a police bullet -- and blowing himself up.

Tuesday’s attack follows coordinated IS suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a city metro station in March that left 32 people dead.

‘I can’t find my sister’

An AFP photographer saw bodies covered with sheets at the terminal, which bore heavy damage from the blasts.

Bullet holes peppered the windows and shattered glass lay on the floor, while abandoned luggage was scattered everywhere.

Hundreds of police and firefighters including forensic officers were at the scene.

“Somebody came and shot at us and then my sister was running,” Otfah Mohamed Abdullah told AFP.

“I don’t know which way she was running and after that I was falling down. I was on the ground till he finished... I can’t find my sister.”

Passengers embrace each other as they wait outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, early Wednesday, June 29, 2016 following their evacuation after a blast. (AP)

Police set up a security cordon around the site as a dozen ambulances rushed to the scene.

There was panic at the nearest hospital in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy district, which was inundated with relatives desperate for news of loved ones.

Brussels airport, itself the scene of suicide bombings just months ago tweeted condolences, saying: “Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at @istanbulairport.”

Security expert Abdullah Agar told CNN Turk the attack bore the hallmarks of a jihadist attack.

“It really bears a resemblance to their methods,” he said in reference to the Brussels bombings, which were claimed by IS.

The US and French consulates warned people to stay away from the area, while Turkish officials said flights would be cancelled until at least 8:00 am on Wednesday.

Erdogan call

Erdogan met with his prime minister and military chief after news of the carnage broke.

“We urge the world, especially Western countries, to take a firm stand against terrorism,” Erdogan said in a statement.

“Despite paying a heavy price, Turkey has the power, determination and capacity to continue the fight against terrorism until the end.”

Turkish forensic police officers work at the scene of a blast outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, late Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (AP)

Istanbul, a major tourism hub that is home to some 15 million people, has suffered a series of attacks in recent months, including a bombing in the heart of the tourist district that killed a dozen German visitors and was blamed on IS.

Two months later, three Israelis and an Iranian were killed in a bombing on the city’s main Istiklal shopping street, also blamed on IS.

A blast on the tarmac at Istanbul’s other international airport, Sabiha Gokcen, killed a cleaner in December.

Turkey has been hit by at least five attacks blamed on IS jihadists, including a blast in Ankara in October 2015 that left over 100 dead, though the group has never formally claimed responsibility for an attack in Turkey.

Ankara has meanwhile launched a sustained offensive against the outlawed rebel Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) following the collapse of a ceasefire last year.

Hundreds of members of the Turkish security forces have since been killed in PKK attacks.