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IS Prime Suspect in Istanbul Airport Attack

IS Prime Suspect in Istanbul Airport AttackIS Prime Suspect in Istanbul Airport Attack

Turkish investigators pored over video footage and witness statements on Wednesday after three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers opened fire and blew themselves up in Istanbul's main airport, killing 41 people and wounding 239.

The attack on Europe's third-busiest airport was the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings this year in Turkey, part of the US-led coalition against the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group and struggling to contain spillover from neighboring Syria's war, Reuters reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against terrorism, which he said had "no regard for faith or values".

Five Saudis and two Iraqis were among the dead, a Turkish official said. Citizens from China, Jordan, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Ukraine were also among the 13 foreigners killed.   

One attacker opened fire in the departures hall with an automatic rifle, sending passengers diving for cover and trying to flee, before all three blew themselves up in or around the arrivals hall a floor below, witnesses and officials said.

Video footage showed one of the attackers inside the terminal building being shot, apparently by a police officer, before falling to the ground as people scattered. The attacker then blew himself up around 20 seconds later.

“It’s a jigsaw puzzle ... The authorities are going through CCTV footage, witness statements,” a Turkish official said.

Dogan news agency said autopsies on the three bombers, whose torsos were ripped apart, had been completed and that they may have been foreign nationals, without citing its sources.

Broken ceiling panels littered the curb outside the arrivals section of the international terminal. Plates of glass had shattered, exposing the inside of the building and electric cables dangled from the ceiling. Cleanup crews swept up debris and armed police patrolled as flights resumed.

“This attack, targeting innocent people is a vile, planned terrorist act,” Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters at the scene in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

“There is initial evidence that each of the three suicide bombers blew themselves up after opening fire.”

The attackers had come to the airport by taxi and preliminary findings pointed to IS culpability.

Two US counterterrorism officials familiar with the early stages of investigations said IS was at the top of the list of suspects even though there was no evidence yet.

No group had claimed the attacks even after 12 hours of the deadly bombings, which began around 9:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) on Tuesday.

 Victims of Many Nationalities

Istanbul’s position bridging Europe and Asia has made Ataturk airport, Turkey’s largest, a major transit hub for passengers across the world. The Istanbul governor’s office said 109 of the 239 people hospitalized had since been discharged.

“There were little babies crying, people shouting, broken glass and blood all over the floor. It was very crowded, there was chaos. It was traumatic,” said Diana Eltner, 29, a Swiss psychologist who was traveling from Zurich to Vietnam but had been diverted to Istanbul after she missed a connection.

The national carrier said it had canceled 340 flights although its departures resumed after 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT).

Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way home, said he saw one of the attackers “randomly shooting” in the departures hall from about 50 meters away.

“He was wearing all black. His face was not masked ... We ducked behind a counter but I stood up and watched him. Two explosions went off shortly after one another. By that time he had stopped shooting,” Roos told Reuters.

“He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator ... We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over.”

 Aim to Maximize Fear

The attack bore similarities to a suicide bombing by IS militants at Brussels airport in March that killed 16 people. A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital. IS also claimed gun and bomb attacks that killed 129 people in Paris last November.

“In Istanbul they used a combination of the methods employed in Paris and Brussels. They planned a murder that would maximize fear and loss of life,” said Suleyman Ozeren, a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based Global Policy and Strategy Institute.

Turkey needs to work harder on “preventative intelligence” to stop militants being radicalized in the first place, he said.

The two US officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Istanbul bombing was more typical of IS than of Kurdish militant groups that have also carried out recent attacks in Turkey, but usually strike at official government targets.

While IS had recently stepped up attacks in Turkey, the group rarely claims responsibility because Turkey remains one of the main corridors for its fighters traveling from Europe to Syria and Iraq

One of the US officials said there had been a “marked increase” in encrypted IS propaganda and communications on the dark web, which some American officials interpret as an effort to direct or inspire more attacks outside its home turf to offset its recent losses on the ground.

 

Financialtribune.com