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Turkey blames Daesh for Istanbul airport blast that killed 41

By ZEYNEP BILGINSOY, Suzan Fraser And Dominique Soguel Associated Press; and SUZAN FRASER, and DOMINIQUE SOGUEL Associated Press
Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Istanbul governor’s office said 41 people were dead, among them 13 foreigners, and more than 230 people were wounded in an attack government says was staged by Daesh.

Airport personnel clear glass debris in Ataturk Airport's International arrival terminal on Wednesday, a day after a suicide bombing and gun attack killed at least 36.  (OZAN KOSE / AFP/GETTY IMAGES) 

ISTANBUL—Suicide attackers armed with guns and bombs killed 41 people and wounded hundreds at Istanbul’s busy Ataturk Airport, apparently targeting Turkey’s crucial tourism industry. The government blamed the attack on extremists from Daesh, also known as the Islamic State, but there was no immediate confirmation from the group.

Turkey’s health minister says 41 people are still in intensive care after the guns-and-bombing attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport.

“We haven’t heard of any Canadians affected by it.” The Canadian-Turkish Business Council told the Star. Global Affairs Canada would not confirm reports that one Canadian was injured.

Travellers and airport workers described scenes of chaos Tuesday night as gunfire and explosions sent fleeing crowds first in one direction, then another.

Airport surveillance video posted on social media appeared to show the moment of one explosion, a ball of fire that sent terrified passengers racing for safety. Another appeared to show an attacker, felled by a gunshot from a security officer, blowing himself up seconds later. A growing stream of travellers, some rolling suitcases behind them, fled down a corridor, looking fearfully over their shoulders.

“Four people fell in front of me. They were torn into pieces,” said airport worker Hacer Peksen.

Two South African tourists, Paul and Susie Roos from Cape Town, were 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 said. “There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a handgun.”

The victims included at least 23 Turkish citizens and 13 foreigners. The death toll excluded the three bombers, who arrived in a taxi and eventually blew themselves up after coming under fire, according to the government, although there were conflicting reports about exactly where they detonated their explosives.

The Istanbul governor’s office said more than 230 people were wounded. Hundreds of passengers who fled the airport in fear were left sitting on the grass outside Tuesday night.

By midday Wednesday, Daesh, also known as the Islamic State group, had not claimed responsibility for the attack, although it did issue an infographic celebrating two years since it announced its creation of a so-called caliphate. It claimed to have “covert units” in Turkey, among other places, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

Funerals for some victims began Wednesday as Turkish authorities tried to piece together how the attack happened, going through surveillance footage and interviewing witnesses to establish a preliminary timeline.

The HaberTurk newspaper reported that one attacker blew himself up outside the terminal, and two others opened fire near the X-ray machines. The report said an attacker was shot at while running amid fleeing passengers, then blew himself up at the exit. It said the third attacker went up one level to the international departures terminal, was shot by police and detonated his explosives.

It was not clear if any attackers were on the loose. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said there were no immediate indications of that.

“So, what can we think? We cannot think anything,” said Ali Batur, whose brother died. “A terror attack might happen everywhere, it happens everywhere . . . . If God permits, we will get over this in unity and solidarity.”

As dawn broke over the destroyed terminal, workers began removing debris from the blast.

The airport reopened Wednesday morning, in sharp contrast to the 12-day complete shutdown in Brussels after the deadly airport bombing there. An information board inside showed about one-third of scheduled flights were cancelled and a host of others were delayed.

Yildirim said it appeared that Daesh, which has threatened Turkey repeatedly, was responsible.

“Even though the indications suggest Daesh, our investigations are continuing,” Yildirim said. He also suggested the attack could be linked to steps Ankara took Monday toward mending strained ties with Israel and Russia.

Turkey has suffered a series of attacks of increasing frequency that have scared away visitors and devastated its economy, which relies heavily on tourism. The country is a key partner in the U.S.-led coalition against Daesh and a NATO member.

Daesh offered no immediate claim of responsibility, but the extremist group rarely does for attacks it conducts in Turkey. One possible reason is a reluctance to be seen as killing fellow Muslims; another is its desire to exploit the violent rift between Turkey and Kurdish rebels, said Anthony Skinner, director of the analyst group Verisk Maplecroft.

“It very clearly meets Islamic State’s strategic objectives to leave this ambiguity,” Skinner said.

Turkey is beset by an array of security threats, including from ultra-left radicals, Kurdish rebels demanding greater autonomy in the restive southeast, and Daesh militants. It shares long, porous borders with both Syria and Iraq, where Daesh controls large pockets of territory. Turkish authorities have blamed Daesh for several major bombings over the past year, including on the capital Ankara, as well as attacks on tourists in Istanbul.

“The reality is that Turkey is situated in a very vulnerable situation geographically speaking,” Skinner said.

Turkish airports have security checks at both the entrance of terminal buildings and, then, later before entry to departure gates.

The government has stepped up controls at airports and land borders and deported thousands of foreign fighters, but has struggled to tackle the extremist threat, while also conducting security operations against Kurdish rebels, who have also been blamed for some recent deadly attacks.

The devastation at Istanbul’s airport echoed the Mar. 22 attack on the Brussels airport, where two suicide bombings ripped through check-in counters, killing 16 people. Daesh claimed responsibility for that attack, as well as an explosion at a Brussels subway station that killed 16 more people.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Twitter: “Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at Istanbul’s airport. We condemn these atrocious acts of violence.”

Yildirim, the prime minister, called for national unity and “global co-operation” in combatting terrorism.

“This has shown once again that terrorism is a global threat,” Yildirim said. “This is a heinous planned attack that targeted innocent people.”

Dozens of anxious friends and relatives waited early Wednesday outside Istanbul’s Bakirkoy Hospital.

“You can hear that people are wailing here,” said Serdar Tatlisu, a relative of a victim. “We cannot cope anymore, we can’t just stay still. We need some kind of solution for whatever problem there is.”

This year alone, a Jan. 12 attack that Turkish authorities blamed on Daesh claimed the lives of a dozen German tourists visiting Istanbul’s historic sites. On Mar. 19, a suicide bombing rocked Istanbul’s main pedestrian street, killing five people, including the bomber, whom the authorities identified as a Turkish national linked to Daesh.

Last October, twin suicide bombings hit a peace rally outside Ankara’s train station, killing 102 people. There was no claim of responsibility, but Turkish authorities blamed it on a Daesh cell.

The world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations has condemned the terrorist attack on Istanbul’s international airport that killed at least 41 people and wounded hundreds.

Iyad Madani, the secretary general of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation of which Turkey is a member, stressed his “absolute rejection” of this terrorist attack carried out during Ramadan, a spiritual month during which Muslims fast daily from dusk to dawn. The attack came a week before the Eid holiday, a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan.

Most victims of the attack appear to be Muslim.

In a statement Wednesday, Madani also called for greater international co-operation to confront “terrorism by addressing its causes and various contexts.”

President Barack Obama phoned his condolences to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the deadly bombing. White House spokesman Josh Earnest says Obama offered U.S. support and assistance in the investigation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, on Twitter, that Canada “strongly condemns tonight’s deadly attack in Turkey,” adding that his “thoughts and prayers” are with the victims as “we stand with our allies against terrorism.”

A spokesperson at Global Affairs Canada said Canadian officials based in Ankara and Istanbul were closely monitoring the circumstances and working to determine if any Canadian citizens had been affected.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued a statement strongly condemning what he called an “appalling” attack.

Dion offered condolences to the family and friends of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded.

“We stand with the Turkish people as they deal with this most recent and appalling terror attack,” Dion said. “We reaffirm our commitment to work tirelessly in the fight against terrorism.”

— With files from Ebyan Abdigir

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