At Least 41 Dead In Terror Attack On Istanbul Airport
At least forty-one people are dead and more than two hundred wounded in a massive apparent terrorist attack on Istanbul’s airport that involved three attackers armed with automatic or semi-automatic weapons and wearing suicide vests, all of whom blew themselves up:
ISTANBUL — Three suicide attackers killed at least 41 people and wounded dozens more at Istanbul’s main airport on Tuesday night, in the latest in a string of terrorist attacks in Turkey, a NATO ally once seen as a bastion of stability but now increasingly consumed by the chaos of the Middle East.
Hours after the assault, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim of Turkey said that early indications pointed to an operation carried out by the Islamic State, but as of early Wednesday, the group had not claimed responsibility for the attack.
The attack began shortly before 10 p.m. Tuesday, Turkish officials said, when two gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons at a security checkpoint outside Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, one of Europe’s busiest. They then detonated their explosives, setting off two fireballs. A third attacker set off explosives in the parking lot.
Turkey has faced a string of terrorist attacks over the past year, including several in Istanbul, as it confronts threats from both the Islamic State and Kurdish militants fighting a war with the Turkish state in the southeast.
The Istanbul governor’s office said on Wednesday morning that 41 people had died. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Tuesday that 147 people were wounded.
Most of the dead were Turks, although some were foreigners, Mr. Yildirim said. The three attackers were killed when they detonated their explosives, he said.
Outside the terminal on Tuesday night, as calls went out on local news channels for blood donors and the Turkish authorities imposed a ban on publishing images of the scene of the attack, ambulances streamed in, while hundreds of dazed and scared travelers sat on the sidewalk waiting for information. And more travelers, many in tears, were streaming out of the airport.
“There were blood splatters everywhere,” said Eylul Kaya, 37, sitting outside with her 1-year-old son. “I covered my boy’s eyes and we ran out.”
As Turkey has faced several deadly terrorist attacks over the past year, Ms. Kaya said, she never thought she would find herself in the middle of one. “We’ve watched these attacks on TV for months, but I never imagined it would happen with so much security in an airport,” she said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted that the bombing came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and he called for global unity in the fight against terrorism.
Turkey has held itself up as an exemplar of a Muslim democracy and has sought to influence the region by reaching out to its Muslim neighbors. Early on, when Syria slipped into civil war in 2011, Turkey pushed for the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad and began helping Syrian rebel groups, allowing the transit of fighters and weapons across its territory.
Turkey’s Western allies, including the United States, blamed the country’s open-border policy for allowing extremist groups like the Islamic State to become powerful inside Syria, and the chaos has increasingly spilled over into Turkey, with terrorist attacks and waves of refugees.
Turkey, a NATO member, has often been at odds with its Western allies over its approach to the region. The United States and others believe that Turkey’s early policy on Syria enabled the growth of the Islamic State, and they have long felt that Turkey was a reluctant partner in fighting the terrorist group. Turkey, in turn, has grown angry over American support for Syrian Kurdish rebels that it sees as terrorists because of links to Kurdish militants inside Turkey.
Some of the recent terrorist attacks in Turkey — including a car bombing in Ankara, the capital, in February — have been attributed to Kurdish militants, which has heightened tensions between Ankara and Washington over the support the United States has given to Syrian Kurdish militants fighting the Islamic State.
The attack on Tuesday evoked the bombing of the Brussels airport several months ago and highlighted the conundrum security officials face in minimizing casualties from terrorist attacks. In Brussels, the attackers managed to get inside the terminal and detonate their explosives. But at the Istanbul airport, the first security check is in a vestibule at the entrance to the terminal, which theoretically adds a layer of security. But even so, people have to line up there and, as the attack demonstrated, it is an easy target for terrorists.
Although no group claimed responsibility for the attack, initial speculation centered on Turkey’s two main enemies: the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and Kurdish militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has waged war with Turkey for more than three decades. Last year, peace talks with the P.K.K. broke down, and the two sides have been at war since. But hours after the attack, Turkish officials turned their attention toward the Islamic State.
“The terrorists arrived at the airport in a taxi,” Mr. Yildirim said. “We will share more details about the attack later. There was no security lapse at the airport.”
Turkey has been rocked by a series of bombings since 2014, and the attacks have been increasing in frequency. In some cases, Kurdish militants have claimed responsibility, but in others, including ones this year in Istanbul’s old city and on its main pedestrian boulevard, Turkish officials have blamed the Islamic State.
Michael S. Smith II, an analyst who closely tracks the Islamic State’s propaganda online, said on Tuesday that there had been a noticeable uptick in the group’s statements regarding Turkey, especially after the announcement last year that the United States had gained access to the Incirlik Air Base.
“Official claims of responsibility for most attacks the Islamic State has been accused of executing in Turkey have been notable by their absence,” Mr. Smith said in an email. “However, during the past year, a significant increase in focus on the Erdogan government’s policies within Islamic State propaganda has been used to build expectations the group will expand its terrorism operations into Turkey.”
Almost immediately after the attack on Tuesday, there was speculation that it might have been a response by the Islamic State to the recent reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, which announced a wide-ranging deal this week to restore diplomatic relations. The two countries had been estranged for six years, after an episode in 2010 in which Israeli commandos stormed a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade; several Turkish activists were killed.
Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Turkish columnist, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening, “The fact that the attack came right after the Turkish-Israeli deal might be not an accident — if ISIS is that fast in response.”
Other analysts, though, noted that attacks involving multiple suicide bombers take time to prepare and are not typically attempted on very short notice.
“Unfortunately, we see the side effects of a disastrous Syria policy that has brought terrorism into the heart of Istanbul and Ankara,” said Suat Kiniklioglu, a former lawmaker who is now chairman of the Center for Strategic Communication, a research organization, in Ankara. “This is obviously intended to create an atmosphere of chaos and hit the economy and tourism.”
ISTANBUL — Turkish authorities combed through video and witness statements Wednesday following an assault by three suicide bombers at the country’s largest airport , seeking to reconstruct an attack that killed at least 41 people and threatened to plunge Turkey into deeper uncertainty.
The death toll included 23 Turks and 18 foreigners, including at least five from Saudi Arabia and others from nations ranging from Tunisia and China, Istanbul’s governor’s official said. At least 147 people were wounded.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early Wednesday that the government believed the Islamic State was behind the assault late Tuesday at the international arrivals terminal of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the bloodshed at the airport — one of the busiest in the world, handling more than 60 million passengers each year.
The attack — the fifth this year in Istanbul — was another potential blow to Turkey’s vital dollar tourism industry and the city’s role as an important international hub for travelers and commerce.
Although Turkish officials suggested Islamic State links to the airport attack, Turkey has faced other threats from Kurdish rebels who have stepped up a decades-long battle. Among the questions now is whether NATO-member Turkey could escalate its role in the fight against the Islamic State in neighboring Syria.
The international arrivals terminal remained closed and was littered with debris and broken glass from the explosions. A flight board showed arrivals from across the globe were either cancelled or delayed. Turkish officials said that the airport had reopened, and that flights had resumed as normal.
Iran on Wednesday said it had suspended all flights to Ataturk Airport, the Reuters news agency reported. Flights by U.S. carriers were temporarily halted in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that unfolded outside the international terminal.
Like some airports in the region, bags and people are screened at the entrance to airport buildings as well as additional times inside.
Police manning a checkpoint shot at two of the attackers as they approached, a Turkish official said. A third bomber detonated explosives in the nearby parking lot, the official said.
Video broadcast by Turkish media showed at least one blast inside the terminal, while other images showed panicked travelers fleeing and debris strewn across the terminal and parking garage.
There was “no security lapse at the airport,” Yildirim said at a news conference at the airport after the attack. He said that the attackers arrived at the airport in a taxi and that police officers and foreign nationals were among the dead.
“We urge the world, especially Western countries, to take a firm stand against terrorism,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “Despite paying a heavy price, Turkey has the power, determination and capacity to continue the fight against terrorism until the end.”
The attack on the airport “should serve as a turning point in the fight against terrorism around the world, and especially in Western countries,” he said.
While Turkey has been under attack by both ISIS and the militant Kurds of PKK almost simultaneously for the better part of this year, the scope of this attack suggest that it is more likely to be an ISIS planned or inspired attack than something carried out by the militant Kurds of the PKK. The seemingly well-planned nature of the attack, for example, involving three heavily armed attackers equipped with automatic weapons and suicide vests, for example, carries more of the signature of ISIS than PKK. Additionally, yesterday marked the second anniversary of the declaration of the ISIS caliphate encompassing the territory that it controls in Iraq and Syria. While ISIS has not necessarily shown the same affinity for staging attacks on specific dates that groups like al Qaeda have in the past, it’s possible they made an exception this time because of the importance to their cause that the declaration of the caliphate has been to inspiring attacks in other parts of the world. The only odd thing about ISIS attacking this particular airport is that it has long been an important waypoint for ISIS fighters traveling between the Middle East and the rest of the world, thanks in no small part to Turkish policies that have essentially looked the other way while this traffic took place since it alleged aided the Turkish policy in Syria which views bringing down the regime of Bashar Assad as more important than confronting ISIS. Given the fact that ISIS has now turned Turkey into a target, with this airport attack proving to be just the most recent and deadliest example, one wonders if that policy will be changing.
As noted above, Turkey has been subjected to a series of bombing attacks in recent months from both ISIS and the PKK that have taken quite a toll on the national psyche. This may be one reason why the Turkish government has seen it necessary in recent weeks to soften its international image. In just the past week, for example, Ankara has achieved a rapprochement with Israel and significantly mended a relationship that went on the rocks some six years ago when Israeli forces boarded and took possession of a Turkish vessel purporting to deliver supplies and material to the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Additionally, Turkey has formally apologized to Russia for shooting down a Russian jet last November, a step no doubt motivated at least in part by Russia’s role in the fight against ISIS. Whether this will lead to actual changes in Turkish policy in Syria, though, is entirely unclear. As it stands, it seems clear that attacking and neutralizing ISIS ought to be a far higher priority than trying to bring down the Assad regime, especially since achieving the later goal is likely to sweep in the kind of chaos under which ISIS thrives. In any case, as long as the major players in the fight against ISIS can’t even agree on a common strategy, it seems rather obvious that the we’re fighting with one hand tied behind our back, and that’s going to make victory of any kind next to impossible.
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