Three suicide bombers opened fire before blowing themselves up in the main international airport in Istanbul on Tuesday, killing 31 people and wounding close to 150, Reuters reports, citing officials.
Police fired shots to try to stop two of the attackers just before they reached a security checkpoint at the arrivals hall at Ataturk Airport, Europe’s third-busiest, but they detonated their explosives, one of the officials said.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 31 people were killed and 147 wounded, according to Turkish broadcasters.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said authorities believed there were three suicide bombers, an account corroborated by witnesses.
A Turkish official said the vast majority of those killed were Turkish nationals but foreigners were also among the dead.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest in a string of suicide bombings in Turkey this year, but the Dogan news agency said initial indications suggested Islamic State may have been responsible, citing police sources.
A Turkish official said it was too soon to assign blame.
The attack bore some similarities to a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Brussels airport in March which killed 16 people.
A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital.
Paul Roos, 77, described seeing one of the attackers “randomly shooting” on the departures floor of the terminal.
“He was just firing at anyone coming in front of him. He was wearing all black. His face was not masked. I was 50 meters (55 yards) away from him,” said Roos, a South African on his way back to Cape Town with his wife after a holiday in southern Turkey.
“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 toward 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.”
President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against militant groups.
“The attack, which took place during the holy month of Ramadan, shows that terrorism strikes with no regard for faith and values,” he said in a statement.
“The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world,” he said, urging all governments to join forces against terrorism.
Turkey has suffered a spate of bombings this year, including two suicide attacks in tourist areas of Istanbul blamed on Islamic State, and two car bombings in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group.
In the most recent attack, a car bomb ripped through a police bus in central Istanbul during the morning rush hour, killing 11 people and wounding 36 near the main tourist district, a major university and the mayor’s office.
Turkey, which is part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, is also fighting Kurdish militants in its largely Kurdish southeast.
– Contact us at [email protected]