41 people were killed and over 100 more were injured when three suicide bombers attacked Istanbul’s main international airport Tuesday night, a senior official said.
The Associated Press, quoting an anonymous Turkish official, reported that “nearly” 50 people were dead in the blasts at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The private NTV broadcaster, citing hospital sources, reported that 106 people had been wounded. A Turkish official told Reuters that the “vast majority” of victims were Turkish, but some foreigners were also affected.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the same senior Turkish official told AP that initial indications suggested the Islamic State terror group (ISIS) were behind the attack. According to Reuters, a police source also told the Dogan News Agency, “ISIS is behind the attack.” There was no immediate formal confirmation from the Ankara government.
The attack occurred one day before the two-year anniversary of ISIS declaring a caliphate across large swathes of Iraq and Syria, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Initial reports indicated that there had been two suicide bombers, at least one of whom attacked the airport’s international terminal. Istanbul provincial governor Vasip Sahin said authorities believed there were three attackers because three explosions had been heard.
“According to the information I was given, a terrorist at the international terminal entrance first opened fire with a Kalashnikov and then blew himself up,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told Turkey’s state-run news agency earlier in the evening.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) June 28, 2016
NTV reported that one of the explosions occurred at the international terminal while another took place at the domestic terminal. However, that report was not immediately confirmed by Turkish authorities.
A Turkish official told The Washington Post that the bombers blew themselves up after police shot at them. Another official told Reuters that the bombers detonated their explosives prior to passing through a X-ray security checkpoint.
Turkish airports have security checks at the entrance of terminal buildings and then again before entry to departure gates.
Police sealed off the terminal and flights were prevented from taking off or landing. Some flights bound for the airport were diverted, while passengers on scheduled outbound flights were put up in nearby hotels. NTV reported that all flights would be canceled until at least 8 a.m. local time Wednesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced late Tuesday that all flights between Istanbul and the U.S. had been halted until further notice.
A law enforcement source told Fox News that there were no immediate plans for additional security in so-called “sterile zones”, or areas where passengers have already gone through checkpoints, at U.S. airports. The official said any decision to add security outside sterile zones would be made by state or local law enforcment.
Some passengers were kept in Ataturk Airport for over two hours after the explosions before the terminal was evacuated. Hundreds spilled out on to the sidewalk with suitcases in their hands or stacked on trollies.
Two South African tourists, Paul and Susie Roos from Cape Town, were at the airport and due to fly home at the time of the explosions.
“We came up from the arrivals to the departures, up the escalator when we heard these shots going off,” Paul Roos told the Associated Press. “There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a handgun.”
Veysel Allay, who was waiting for a friend in the arrivals terminal, told the Daily Telegraph, “A man ran up and ripped open his jacket, showing a bomb vest. I ran before he did anything.”
Jim Hyong Lee of South Korea told the Telegraph he and his family were checking in for a flight home when “we heard gunshots.”
“I grabbed my family and ran,” Lee said. “Someone waved us into the prayer room and hid us there until the police came.”
Roads around the airport were sealed off for regular traffic after the attack and several ambulances could be seen driving back and forth.
— Mojtaba (@MohammadZaam) June 28, 2016
In the U.S., President Obama was briefed about the attack by Lisa Monaco, his homeland security and counterterrorism adviser. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement that the Justice Department and FBI “have offered assistance to our Turkish counterparts as needed.”
A law enforcement source told Fox News that FBI assets had not been sent to Istanbul as of Tuesday evening.
Ataturk Airport is the largest in Turkey and the third busiest in Europe behind London’s Heathrow Airport and Paris’ Charles de Gaulle. More than 60 million passengers went through the hub in 2015. It is also one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, seeing 9.2 percent more passengers last year than in 2014.
Turkey has been the target of recent terror attacks by ISIS extremists, as well as Kurdish nationalist groups. Earlier this month, a car bomb targeted a bus carrying riot police in Istanbul, killing 11 people and injuring 36 others.
The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the Turkish economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.