29 Jun 2016

Turkish PM blames Istanbul attack on IS

6:32 pm on 29 June 2016

The Islamic State militant group is being blamed for shooting and suicide attacks that left at least 36 dead at the main airport in Istanbul, Turkey.

Passengers embrace outside Ataturk airport`s main entrance in Istanbul.

Passengers embrace outside Ataturk airport`s main entrance in Istanbul. Photo: AFP

Police fired shots to try to stop three attackers just before they reached a security checkpoint at the arrivals hall of Ataturk Airport but they blew themselves up, Turkish officials said.

Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim said 36 people had been killed, while the country's justice minister said 147 were wounded.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the latest in a string of suicide bombings in Turkey this year, but Mr Yildirim said findings pointed to Islamic State being responsible.

The Dogan news agency also said earlier that initial indications suggested Islamic State might have been responsible, citing police sources.

Ambulances and police at the entrance to Ataturk Airport after the explosion.

Ambulances and security services at the entrance to Ataturk Airport after the explosion. Photo: AFP / Ilhas News Agency

A Turkish official said the vast majority of those killed were Turkish nationals but foreigners were also among the dead.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is in contact with Turkish authorities to establish whether any New Zealanders were caught up in the deadly bomb attacks.

A spokeswoman for the ministry said it was aware of the explosions and was in contact with authorities.

The ministry is advising against all tourist and non-essential travel to Istanbul because of the high risk of terrorism.

It said 182 New Zealanders were registered as being in Turkey.

Attacker 'randomly shooting'

One of the attackers "randomly opened fire" as he walked through the terminal building, shortly before three explosions, an eyewitness said.

"We came right to international departures and saw the man randomly shooting. He was just firing at anyone coming in front of him. He was wearing all black. His face was not masked. I was 50 metres away from him," said Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way back to Cape Town with his wife.

"We ducked behind a counter but I stood up and watched him. Two explosions went off shortly after one another. By that time he had stopped shooting," Mr Roos told Reuters.

"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."

Cameraman Laurence Cameron was caught up in the explosions and described the scene, with people lost, bewildered and terrified.

He told Checkpoint with John Campbell there were blood stains all over the floor and ceiling panels crashed all over the ground. It was a scene of carnage, he said.

"It was pandemonium. The worst image I have from it is people clearly split up from their families or tour group of friends looking back into the mass of people shouting in a multitude of different languages, but obviously police were just trying to push everyone through as fast as possible."

Victims would likely be from a variety of countries, cultures and religions, he said.

Ali Tekin, who was at the arrivals hall waiting for a guest when the attack took place, said the airport was extensively damaged.

"There was a huge explosion, extremely loud. The roof came down. Inside the airport it is terrible, you can't recognise it, the damage is big."

Taxis took wounded people away from the airport, witnesses said.

Pictures posted on social media from the site showed wounded people lying on the ground inside and outside one of the terminal buildings.

People leave Ataturk Airport after  explosions outside the arrivals hall.

People leave Ataturk Airport after explosions outside the arrivals hall. Photo: AFP

Authorities halted the takeoff of scheduled flights from the airport and passengers were transferred to hotels, a Turkish Airlines official said. Earlier an airport official said some flights to the airport had been diverted.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has grounded all flights between the US and Istanbul.

Turkey a vulnerable target

Turkey has suffered a spate of bombings this year, including two suicide attacks in tourist areas of Istanbul blamed on Islamic State, and two car bombings in the capital, Ankara, which were claimed by a Kurdish militant group.

The attack comes three months after suicide bombers killed 32 people at Brussels international airport and a city metro station. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police block the roadway to a terminal at Ataturk Airport.

Police block the entrance to a terminal at Ataturk Airport. Photo: AFP

Ataturk Airport was long seen as a vulnerable target. There are X-ray scanners at the entry to the terminal but security checks for cars are limited.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack, calling for a "joint fight" against terrorism.

The US also condemned the "heinous" attack, saying America remained "steadfast in our support for Turkey".

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "We grieve for the victims... We stand by Turkey".

Charles Michel, the Prime Minister of Belgium, whose capital city was targeted by bombers in March, tweeted from the EU summit in Brussels: "Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at Istanbul's airport. We condemn these atrocious acts of violence."

- Reuters / CNN / BBC