Istanbul airport attack: Survivors recall chaos, terror as gunmen went on rampage

Right: A mother of one of the victims grieving outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul's airport yesterday. The attack left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured. Above: Forensic experts at work outside Istanbul's Ataturk airp
A mother of one of the victims grieving outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul's airport yesterday. The attack left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Right: A mother of one of the victims grieving outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul's airport yesterday. The attack left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured. Above: Forensic experts at work outside Istanbul's Ataturk airp
Above: Forensic experts at work outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport after the attack on Tuesday night. The attackers began shooting indiscriminately in the main terminal building before blowing themselves up. PHOTO: REUTERS
Right: A mother of one of the victims grieving outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul's airport yesterday. The attack left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured. Above: Forensic experts at work outside Istanbul's Ataturk airp
Ataturk airport closed-circuit television camera footage showing one of the attackers taking aim with an assault rifle (above), and one of the three explosions.
Right: A mother of one of the victims grieving outside a forensic medicine building close to Istanbul's airport yesterday. The attack left at least 41 people dead and 239 others injured. Above: Forensic experts at work outside Istanbul's Ataturk airp
Ataturk airport closed-circuit television camera footage showing one of the attackers taking aim with an assault rifle, and one of the three explosions (above).

Some watched attack unfold on smartphones while in hiding; others relayed news online

ISTANBUL • A petrified couple on honeymoon hugged each other inside a hair salon cupboard as shots rang out outside, praying the gunmen rampaging through Istanbul's airport would not find them.

Other survivors, crouched under check-in counters, frantically tried to decide whether to stay put or flee.

Witnesses to the carnage at Istanbul's Ataturk airport on Tuesday night described scenes of blind panic and stomach-churning terror after attackers began shooting indiscriminately in the main terminal building. The attackers later blew themselves up by detonating three bombs.

Mr Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way home, said he saw one of the attackers "randomly shooting" in the departure hall from about 50m away.

"He was wearing all black. His face was not masked... We ducked behind a counter but I stood up and watched him. Two explosions went off shortly, one after another. By that time, he had stopped shooting," Mr Roos told Reuters.

 
 
 
 

COULD HAVE HAPPENED ANYWHERE

The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world. Make no mistake: For terrorist organisations, there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago or Antalya and Rome.

TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, calling on all governments to join forces against terrorism.

TERRIFYING

There were the sounds of gunfire, it was like thunder, then there was a fireball everywhere. My front window blew out, the car in front of me was turned into scrap.

FATIH, a taxi driver.

TRENDY TOWN NOW A TARGET

It was a happening town, cutting edge in arts and culture. It's the kind of place that Conde Nast would write about. Now, this is a Middle Eastern country where these things happen.

MS ASLI AYDINTASBAS, an analyst and writer who has chronicled Turkey's descent into chaos.

"He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator... We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over."

Amid the chaos, some watched the horror unfold on their smartphones or told their stories live on social media.

Latvian businessman Rihards Kalnins said that those inside the terminal had no way of knowing what was happening.

"People were running, screaming. I didn't know what was going on. At first, I thought it was a fight or something like that," he said.

"Then people started saying there was an explosion, there was gunfire. There was no order. Then for the next few hours, the only way to find out what was going on was through social media.

"Literally, while we were hiding out a couple of hundred metres away around the corner, some local guy was showing us video footage on his phone of what was going on 200m away - which was surreal."

New York-based Iraqi journalist Steven Nabil was on his way home after his honeymoon when he was caught up in the drama, which he depicted in a series of tweets.

He had left his wife in a cafe while he went to get food on a different floor. When he heard gunfire, he rushed back to his wife and saw a man firing at them.

"We then took cover in a closet inside a hair salon. For 45 minutes, we were sitting ducks waiting to find out who would open the door."

As officials said yesterday that the death toll from the attack had risen to 41, details about the victims began trickling out.

One man worked as a Turkish translator and was escorting tourists back to the airport. One woman, an airport worker, was looking forward to her wedding in 10 days. There were taxi drivers and a customs officer. And there was a Turkish couple who worked together, and died together.

Among the victims were five Saudis, two Iraqis and one citizen each from China, Iran, Jordan, Tunisia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, according to a Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record about the attack.

The victims reflected the cosmopolitan and international character of Istanbul, whose airport is among the world's busiest, a hub for tens of millions of passengers each year connecting to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

Subways and streets in Istanbul were quiet yesterday, with tourists who had come to the country anyway, despite a string of attacks over the last year.

The Turkish people, meanwhile, felt stunned at the dismal turn their country had taken.

"I was in a crying mood this morning, looking at the news," said Mr Osman Serim, 60, a businessman.

"What is going to happen? What is the hope? What is the future for young people?"

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE , REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Survivors recall chaos, terror as gunmen went on rampage'. Print Edition | Subscribe