Authorities in the U.S. are bracing for more attacks — with New York and New Jersey police stepping up airport patrols — after three coordinated suicide bombings at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport left dozens dead in the latest mass murder blamed on Islamic State terrorists.
Turkish authorities said at least three attackers traded gunfire last night with police at the entrances to the airport’s international and domestic terminals, then detonated suicide vests there and in a parking lot. The death toll stood at 36 as of last night, with 147 wounded, but the number of dead was expected to rise, officials said.
“The terrorists came to the airport in a taxi and then carried out their attacks,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said. “The fact that they were carrying guns added to the toll. Preliminary findings suggest all three attackers first opened fire then detonated themselves.”
Turkish authorities said the Islamic State was suspected to be behind what is being called a Belgium-style attack — a reference to the coordinated ISIS bombings at the airport and a metro station in Brussels in March. U.S. officials told CNN they also suspect ISIS.
The Federal Aviation Administration barred U.S. flights to and from Turkey for several hours, while the State Department renewed a travel warning issued after a series of bombings that targeted tourists in Istanbul.
While authorities in Massachusetts said they were maintaining current security levels, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was deploying additional police with tactical weapons to patrol New York’s John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports and New Jersey’s Newark International Airport.
Hevin Zini, 12, had just arrived in Istanbul from Duesseldorf, Germany, with her family and was in tears.
“There was blood on the ground,” she said. “Everything was blown up to bits. … If we had arrived two minutes earlier, it could have been us.”
South African Judy Favish, who spent two days in Istanbul on a layover on her way home from Dublin, had just checked in when she heard an explosion followed by gunfire and a loud bang. She says she hid under a counter for some time.
Favish said passengers were ushered to a cafeteria at the basement level where they were kept for more than an hour before being allowed outside.
Two other South African tourists, Paul and Susie Roos of Cape Town, were at the airport and 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.”
Fred Burton, intelligence chief for Stratfor, a global intelligence firm, called the attack “the new normal” for terrorists, adding, “they looked at the success in Brussels and modeled this after it.”
“If you get two or three attackers like this, and you can be successful on any airport in the world,” Burton said. “In essence, what you do is try to mitigate the initial attack. You have to make sure that your police response capability can neutralize this quickly. It’s containment. It’s limiting the body count.”
Roads around Istanbul’s airport were sealed off last night and several ambulances could be seen driving back and forth. Hundreds of passengers were flooding out of the airport, where witnesses described scenes of chaos and panic.
“It was just a massive crowd of screaming people. Some were falling over themselves. A poor chap in a wheelchair was just left, and everyone just rushed to the back of the building, and then people ran the other way and no one really seemed to know what was going on,” traveler Laurence Cameron, who had just got off a plane, told CNN.
“Where you normally hail a taxi, that is where the attack happened,” Cameron said. “The ground is just kind of shredded. There are bloodstains on the floor as well.”
Turkey, neighboring Syria, has been involved in the fight against the Islamic State and is also a conduit for refugees heading west. Turkey’s recent rapprochement with Israel also is being seen as a possible motivator for Islamic extremist attacks.
Turkey has suffered several bombings in recent months linked to Kurdish or Islamic State terrorists. The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.
Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport was the 11th-busiest airport in the world last year, with 61.8 million passengers, according to Airports Council International. It is also one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, seeing 9.2 percent more passengers last year than in 2014.
Herald wire services contributed to this report.
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