At­tack­ers seized on chaos to un­leash more may­hem

The Daily Herald - - NATION & WORLD - By Do­minique Soguel And Suzan Fraser

IS­TAN­BUL — It was an at­tack that echoed the car­nage ear­lier this year at the Brus­sels air­port, down to the taxi that car­ried the men to their tar­get: In­cit­ing panic and then tak­ing lethal ad­van­tage, three sui­cide at­tack­ers un­leashed a deadly tide of bul­lets and bombs at Is­tan­bul’s Ataturk Air­port, leav­ing 42 dead.

Au­thor­i­ties blamed the Is­lamic State for the blood bath late Tues­day, a co­or­di­nated as­sault on one of the world’s busiest air­ports and on a key NATO ally that plays a cru­cial role in the fight against the ex­trem­ist group.

There was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity by the mil­i­tant group.

Al­though the at­tack took a heavy toll, the as­sailants were ini­tially thwarted by the ex­ten­sive se­cu­rity on the air­port’s perime­ter, Turk­ish of­fi­cials said.

“When the ter­ror­ists couldn’t pass the reg­u­lar se­cu­rity sys­tem, when they couldn’t pass the scan­ners, po­lice and se­cu­rity con­trols, they re­turned and took their weapons out of their suit­cases and opened fire at ran­dom at the se­cu­rity check,” Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Bi­nali Yildirim said.

One at­tacker det­o­nated his ex­plo­sives down­stairs at the ar­rivals ter­mi­nal, one went up­stairs and blew him­self up in the de­par­ture hall, and the third waited out­side for the flee­ing crowd and caused the fi­nal lethal blast, two Turk­ish of­fi­cials said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they weren’t au­tho­rized to speak about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion pub­licly. None of the at­tack­ers were Turks, a third of­fi­cial said.

As the chaos un­folded, ter­ri­fied trav­el­ers were sent run­ning first from one ex­plo­sion and then an­other. Air­port sur­veil­lance video showed a pan­icked crowd of peo­ple, some rolling suit­cases be­hind them, stam­ped­ing down a cor­ri­dor, look­ing fear­fully over their shoul­ders.

Other sur­veil­lance footage posted on so­cial me­dia showed one ex­plo­sion, a ball of fire that sent ter­ri­fied pas­sen­gers rac­ing for cover. An­other showed an at­tacker, felled by a gun­shot from a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer, blow­ing him­self up sec­onds later.

Ci­han Tunc­tas had just dis­em­barked from a flight from Azer­bai­jan when he heard the sound of gun­fire.

“Then the bomb ex­ploded. We were at the exit and … the roof col­lapsed on our heads,” Tunc­tas said. The group tried to es­cape,

but their path was blocked by the ar­rival of a sec­ond at­tacker.

“Two of the se­cu­rity guards no­ticed him. They walked to­ward him. Just as they were walk­ing to­ward him, I turned that way. They just caught him and at that mo­ment he det­o­nated the bomb.”

In­ves­ti­ga­tors later found a Kalash­nikov as­sault ri­fle, a hand­gun and two grenades on the bod­ies, ac­cord­ing to the staterun Anadolu news ser­vice. Raids at two ad­dresses also un­cov­ered en­crypted or­ga­ni­za­tional doc­u­ments and com­puter files, the news agency said.

Al­though the gov­ern­ment quickly blamed the Is­lamic State, there was no im­me­di­ate claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity by the ex­trem­ist group, which did not men­tion the blood­shed on its so­cial me­dia sites Wed­nes­day. How­ever, an in­fo­graphic re­leased to cel­e­brate the sec­ond an­niver­sary of its self­pro­claimed caliphate claimed to have “covert units” in Turkey and other coun­tries.

Is­lamic State, how­ever, rarely claims at­tacks in Turkey. One pos­si­ble rea­son is a re­luc­tance to be seen as killing fel­low Mus­lims, said An­thony Skin­ner, di­rec­tor of the an­a­lyst group Verisk Maple­croft. An­other is its de­sire to ex­ploit the vi­o­lent rift be­tween Turkey and Kur­dish rebels, he said.

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

Yildirim, the Turk­ish prime min­is­ter, also sug­gested the at­tack could be linked to steps Ankara took Mon­day to­ward mend­ing strained ties with Is­rael and Rus­sia. Late Wed­nes­day, he told the Turk­ish pub­lic the au­thor­i­ties were in­creas­ingly con­vinced that the Is­lamic State group, also known as Daesh, was re­spon­si­ble for the ghastly at­tack.

“Our thought that it is Daesh, con­tin­ues to gain weight,” Yildirim said.

A key part­ner in the U.S.-led coali­tion against the Is­lamic State group, Turkey faces an ar­ray of se­cu­rity threats from other groups as well, in­clud­ing ul­tra­left rad­i­cals and Kur­dish rebels de­mand­ing greater au­ton­omy in the restive south­east.

The coun­try shares long, por­ous bor­ders with both Syria and Iraq, where IS con­trols large pock­ets of ter­ri­tory, and the gov­ern­ment has blamed IS for sev­eral ma­jor bomb­ings over the past year, in­clud­ing in the cap­i­tal Ankara, and on tourists in Is­tan­bul.

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

Vic­tims in Tues­day’s at­tack in­cluded at least 13 for­eign­ers and sev­eral peo­ple re­mained uniden­ti­fied Wed­nes­day. The Is­tan­bul gover­nor’s of­fice said more than 230 peo­ple were wounded and dozens re­mained in crit­i­cal con­di­tion.

Among the dead was Muhammed Ey­men Demirci, who had just landed a job on the air­port’s ground services crew af­ter more than a year of un­em­ploy­ment: “I got the job bro!” the 25-year-old texted a friend in May.

He died while wait­ing for a bus af­ter his shift. A child­hood friend who had helped Demirci get the job was devastated. “He was such a friendly per­son, a man who fought for his ideals,” Deniz Do­gan told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “Now I wish he hadn’t got­ten the job.”

“So, what can we think? We can­not think any­thing,” said Ali Batur, whose brother also died. “A ter­ror at­tack might hap­pen ev­ery­where, it does hap­pen ev­ery­where.”

Dozens of anx­ious friends and rel­a­tives waited 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.”

Fu­ner­als for some of the vic­tims be­gan Wed­nes­day as Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties sought to put to­gether an at­tack time­line, go­ing through sur­veil­lance footage and in­ter­view­ing wit­nesses. A Turk­ish court im­posed a me­dia ban on any in­for­ma­tion not of­fi­cially re­leased by the gov­ern­ment.

The dev­as­ta­tion at Is­tan­bul’s air­port was a re­minder of the March 22 at­tack on the Brus­sels air­port, where two sui­cide bomb­ings ripped through checkin coun­ters, killing 16 peo­ple. The Is­lamic State group claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for that at­tack, as well as an ex­plo­sion the same day at a Brus­sels sub­way sta­tion that killed 16 more peo­ple.

As dawn broke Wed­nes­day, work­ers were re­mov­ing de­bris from the Is­tan­bul air­port and mere hours af­ter the ter­mi­nal erupted into chaos, it re­opened to flights. It took 12 days for flights to re­sume in Brus­sels, and more than two months for the ter­mi­nal build­ing to fully re­open.

Turkey has suf­fered a series of at­tacks that have fright­ened away vis­i­tors and devastated its econ­omy, which re­lies heav­ily on tourism.

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. Turk­ish air­ports have se­cu­rity checks at both the en­trances to ter­mi­nal build­ings and be­fore the en­trances to de­par­ture gates.

This year alone, a Jan. 12 at­tack that Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties blamed on IS claimed the lives of a dozen Ger­man tourists vis­it­ing Is­tan­bul’s his­toric sites. On March 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 IS.

Last Oc­to­ber, twin sui­cide bomb­ings hit a peace rally out­side Ankara’s train sta­tion, killing 103 peo­ple. There was no claim of re­spon­si­bil­ity but Turk­ish au­thor­i­ties blamed it on an Is­lamic State cell.

PHOTOS BY EM­RAH GUREL / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Fam­ily mem­bers of vic­tims cry out­side the Foren­sic Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Is­tan­bul on Wed­nes­day. Sui­cide at­tack­ers killed dozens and wounded more than 140 at Is­tan­bul’s busy Ataturk Air­port late Tues­day, the lat­est in a series of bomb­ings to strike Turkey in re­cent months.

Pas­sen­gers em­brace each other as they wait out­side Is­tan­bul’s Ataturk air­port early Wed­nes­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.