Attack at Istanbul airport leaves 41 dead; security stepped up

Relatives of Muhammed Egmen Demirci, who was killed in the attacks on June 28, pray during a funeral in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 29.
Relatives of Muhammed Egmen Demirci, who was killed in the attacks on June 28, pray during a funeral in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 29.PHOTO: EPA

ISTANBUL • Turkey shored up airport security and declared a national day of mourning yesterday after a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul's Ataturk airport left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured.

Security agencies in Singapore immediately stepped up checks and patrols at all checkpoints and key transport nodes after the airport attack, the Ministry of Home Affairs said yesterday.

In Istanbul, witnesses described scenes of terror and panic on Tuesday night as the attackers opened fire indiscriminately before blowing themselves up at Europe's third busiest airport.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said "the evidence" pointed to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

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.

Mr AbduRahman Hussein, a filmmaker from Yemen, said he was about to eat at one of the terminal's second-floor restaurants when he heard shots and explosions.

"I saw the smoke," he said. "Then I started running away."

Three suicide bombers opened fire and then blew themselves up in rapid succession around 9.20pm (2.20am on Wednesday in Singapore), Mr Yildirim said after assessing the damage at the airport.

Among the dead, 13 were foreign nationals from countries including Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Ukraine.

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 shows a black- clad attacker running inside the building before collapsing - apparently felled by a police bullet - and blowing himself up.

Both Islamist, leftist and Kurdish militants have carried out bomb attacks in Turkey in recent months, hammering the nation's vital tourism industry.

Tourist arrivals fell almost 35 per cent in May from a year earlier, following a 28 per cent drop in April.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared yesterday a national day of mourning after he urged all countries to join forces against terrorism.

Singapore joined the international community in condemning the killings, and President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote to their respective Turkish counterparts to convey their condolences.

US President Barack Obama, speaking by telephone with Mr Erdogan, expressed his condolences and offered US support.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mr Erdogan also had a phone conversation, their first since Ankara downed a Russian jet last year.

After the call, Mr Putin lifted Moscow's travel curbs to Turkey and ordered trade ties normalised.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Attack at Istanbul airport leaves 41 dead; security stepped up'. Print Edition | Subscribe