Isil 'responsible' for Istanbul airport attack

John Brennan, director of the CIA, said the attack bore all the hallmarks of Isil.

Published: 30th June 2016 07:51 AM  |   Last Updated: 30th June 2016 07:51 AM   |  A+A-


Turkish forensic police officers work at the scene of a blast outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, late Tuesday, June 28, 2016. (AP)

ISTANBUL: Steven Nabil had clutched his new wife Narmeen in the dark of a broom cupboard in Ataturk airport, telling her that whatever should happen to them he had loved her dearly.

The young couple had not imagined this was how their short marriage might end.

Moments earlier a gunman, dressed all in black, had stormed the food court at Istanbul's international airport and began "spraying indiscriminately" at families sitting down to a meal to break their Ramadan fast.

"Women, children, it didn't matter to him who he was shooting. He was shouting and smiling as he fired his AK-47 in all directions," Mr Nabil told The Daily Telegraph. He and his wife had been on their way home to New York after enjoying a week-long honeymoon in Turkey. An Iraqi-American journalist covering Islamic State atrocities in his homeland, Mr Nabil had not experienced them first hand before Tuesday night.

"He came within feet of us, he stared right at us. But I had my new family to protect," he said. Under a hail of bullets he pulled his wife into a nearby hairdressing salon, where they barricaded themselves inside a cupboard.

In hushed voices they discussed their plan if the gunman was to find them. "I was begging Narmeen, who had been injured in the chaos, to keep calm because the noise might draw in the attacker," he said. "We were like sitting ducks.

"I looked around desperately for anything sharp to protect her if they opened the door and took hostages. I thought about using boiling tea water as a weapon to distract the shooter and give my wife a chance to run.

"He went on shooting for 10-15 minutes before he exploded the bomb," he said. "It felt so long I didn't think we'd get out alive so we sent final messages to our loved ones."

Turkish authorities are still piecing together what happened, but the scale and level of planning that had been involved in the attack at one of Europe's busiest airports became clearer yesterday. The death toll from the triple suicide bombing rose to 41 people, including 13 foreigners, and the number of wounded to 230. Turkish media yesterday released pictures of what they said were two of the three men behind they attack as they walked into the airport. One appears young, dressed in a puffa jacket. The other, in a separate photograph, appears to be holding a gun.

The assault appeared calculated and well thought-out, bearing similarities to the bombing at Zaventem airport in Brussels three months earlier.

It began shortly after 10pm with a shooting in a car park adjacent to the international arrivals terminal, which worked to draw security staff away from the terminal. The second attacker then detonated his suicide vest near the scores of people gathered at the taxi and drop-off area.

The blast breached the doors and security cordon, allowing a third attacker to get inside the building and let off the third explosion moments later.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but officials were quick to lay blame at Isil's door.

"For terrorist organisations, there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago or Antalya," President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a TV address yesterday, saying the bombing should serve as a turning point in the global fight against militant groups.

John Brennan, director of the CIA, said the attack bore all the hallmarks of Isil. He described the group as a "determined enemy", adding that he would be "surprised" if it was not trying to carry out similar assaults in the US.

Isil has a history of not claiming its attacks in Turkey. The country had for years facilitated the movement of the group's fighters through its frontier with Syria and until recently turned a blind eye to activity within its borders.

But Isil has long been threatening an attack on the Muslim-majority country, which it sees as a traitor for working with the US in Syria. Just 20 days ago, intelligence agencies sent out an official warning to other departments that one was imminent.

An expert last night suggested that Turkey's chickens had come home to roost. "Some leaders try to appease terrorists by facilitating transit in and out of their country. But eventually the host becomes a target," said Max Abrahms, a terrorism expert at Northeastern University in Boston.

Anger is growing in the country - which has suffered more than half a dozen attacks by Isil and Kurdish insurgents since the start of the year - at the government's failure to stop the escalating violence. When Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited the wounded at Bakirkoy Sadi Konuk Hospital yesterday, he was met with hostility. "You have turned us into Syria," one man shouted at him.

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