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 Islamic State and struggling to contain spillover from neighbouring Syria’s war.
President 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”.
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, before falling to the ground as people scattered. The attacker then blew himself up around 20 seconds later.
Turkey pointed the finger of blame at Islamic State militants on Wednesday after suicide bombers armed with automatic rifles attacked Istanbul’s main international airport, killing 41 people, including foreigners.
Witnesses described scenes of terror and panic on Tuesday evening as the attackers began shooting indiscriminately and then blew themselves up at the entrance to Ataturk airport, one of Europe’s busiest hubs.
The assault, at the start of Turkey’s crucial summer tourist season, was the latest in a wave of attacks in Istanbul and the capital Ankara over the past year, putting the country on high alert.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but PM Binali Yildirim said “the evidence points to Daesh”, using another name for the militant group.
The city’s governor said 41 people were killed, including 13 foreigners, and 239 wounded.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an international “joint fight” against terror, as Western allies, including the US, condemned the “heinous” attack.
President Barack Obama offered US security assistance to Turkey. Obama telephoned Erdogan “to express his deep condolences on behalf of the American people,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with the US leader to a summit in Ottawa.
“In the context of that call, he will offer any support that the Turks can benefit from as they conduct this investigation and take steps to further strengthen the security situation in their country.”
“Any information that we obtain that could be useful to the Turkish investigation, we will certainly share that information,” he added.
Security camera footage widely circulated on social media appeared to capture two of the blasts. In one clip a huge ball of flame erupts at an entrance to the terminal building, scattering terrified passengers.
Another video shows a black-clad attacker running inside the building before collapsing to the ground — apparently felled by a police bullet — and blowing himself up.
Analyst Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, described it as a “symbolic attack against the heart of Turkey”.
“If this Islamic State is indeed behind this attack, this would be a declaration of war. Turkey’s vengeance will come down like rain from hell on the Islamic State.”
The attack prompted the suspension of all flights at the airport, but operations were resuming on Wednesday with some delays. There was chaos at the nearest hospital in Istanbul’s Bakirkoy district, which was inundated with relatives desperate for news of loved ones.
Brussels airport, the scene of suicide bombings just months ago, tweeted condolences, saying: “Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at @istanbulairport.”.