Deadly explosions tore through crowds at Istanbul’s Atatürk international airport on Tuesday evening, leaving more than 41 people dead and scores more injured in an attack officials blamed on the Islamic State terror group.
Shortly before the blasts, assailants armed with AK-47 rifles became involved in a firefight with security and police near the airport’s x-ray security checkpoint. The gunmen then detonated what are believed to have been suicide bombs. Three attackers died on the scene, said the Turkish prime minister, Binali Yıldırım.
By Wednesday morning, 18 bodies had been identified, including a young married couple working in ground services, several tourism guides and one taxi driver.
Turkish officials have confirmed there were international passengers among those killed in the terror attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
An official said the death toll consisted of 23 Turkish and 13 foreign nationals, according to the AFP news agency, including one Iranian and one Ukrainian.
Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Turkey said at least seven Saudis were injured in the attack and all are in stable condition.
The Istanbul governor’s office said 23 Turks, 10 foreigners and three dual nationals were among the dead. Turkish officials said five Saudis, two Iraqis, an Iranian, a Chinese, a Jordanian, a Tunisian, an Uzbek and a Ukrainian were killed in the attack, and Turkish national broadcaster TRT reported that five of the dead were police officers.
The governor’s office also said at least 239 people were wounded in the attack, and that 109 of those had been discharged from hospital by early on Wednesday afternoon.
“There were the sounds of gunfire, it was like thunder, then there was a fireball everywhere,” a taxi driver, named as Fatih, told CNNTurk. “My front window blew out; the car in front of me was turned into scrap.” Fatih said that at the most two minutes passed between the gunfire and the explosion.
In a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday night, Yıldırım said: “No matter where the terror comes from, our country is strong enough to fight against this terror. I call on every citizen to act in unity and stand by each other.” He said that by 2.22am local time air traffic was “back to normal and flights are resumed”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called on all governments, especially in the west, to join forces in taking a “firm stand against terror”.
“The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world. Make no mistake: for terrorist organisations there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago or Antalya and Rome.
“Unless all government and the entire mankind join forces in the fight against terrorism, much worse things than what we fear to imagine today will come true.”
Jared Malsin, a correspondent for Time, tweeted from the scene: “Hundreds of travellers now streaming out of the airport. Some saying they were trapped inside for 2+ hours … several witnesses confirming two separate explosions, the second one triggering a stampede inside the arrival hall.”
“We are not delighted of course, and I briefly hesitated when booking this trip,” Peter, who preferred not to give his last name, said. “But I have been coming to Turkey a lot, it’s a beautiful country. Maybe I would not have booked this trip if I would have to make the decision today, but I have lived in Belfast and the centre of London at the height of the Troubles, somehow one deals with it.”
Tourism, one of the country’s main economic sectors, has almost ground to a standstill as a result of the bloody string of attacks over the past year. Sitting in front of a tourism agency office, Abdulbakir Demir, 42, said that prospects were grim:
“With Eid coming up, business had just started to pick up again as well,” he said. “But now we are finished.” Motioning at the hotels and shops selling knickknacks in the streets around his agency, he added: “All of these will have to close down. This morning, our Eid reservations went down to 30%. People keep calling to cancel their holidays because of the explosion at the airport last night.”
Turkish authorities issued a broadcast ban on the attack and Erdoğan held an emergency meeting with the prime minister and military commanders on Tuesday night.
It is also the third attack on Turkey’s biggest city this year. The nation has been on high security alert after a string of terrorist attacks. Two deadly bombings in Istanbul earlier this year were blamed on Islamic State.
In early June a car suicide bomb killed 12 people in the central Vezneciler district of Istanbul in an attack claimed by radical Kurdish militants.
In just over one year, almost 300 people have died in 17 bomb attacks and suicide bombings all over the country, and more than 1,000 have been injured.