‘We saw debris and blood. Chaos’
A petrified honeymoon couple hugged each other inside a hair salon cupboard as shots rang out outside, praying the gunmen rampaging through Istanbul Atatürk Airport would not find them.
Other survivors crouched under check-in counters frantically weighing up whether to stay put or flee.
Amid the chaos, some watched the horror unfold on smartphones or told their stories live on social media. Many were left not knowing for hours whether loved ones were alive or dead. Witnesses to the carnage described scenes of blind panic and stomach-churning terror after attackers detonated three bombs and began shooting indiscriminately in the main terminal building.
Forty-one people died in the bloodiest of four attacks in the city this year. Turkish authorities have pointed the finger at Islamic State militants. Security cameras captured passengers scattering on Tuesday evening as a ball of flame erupted at one entrance. Other footage showed a black-clad gunman blowing himself up after apparently being floored by a police marksman’s shot.
Abandoned luggage sprinkled with shards of shattered glass was strewn across the blood-splattered floor.
Otfah Mohamed Abdullah was checking her luggage in when she saw one of the attackers pull out a hidden gun and begin shooting.
“He’s shooting up, two times, and he’s beginning to shoot people like that, like he was walking like a prophet,” she told AFPTV. “And then my sister was running I don’t know which way. ” Yumi Koyi was waiting for her flight to Tokyo when the attacks began and she was swept up in a scramble to escape. “I heard gunshots so it was really panicking, everyone together.”
Latvian businessman Rihards Kalnins said that those inside the terminal had no way of knowing what was happening.
“There was just panic about what was going on. People were running, screaming. I didn’t know what was going on. At first I thought it was a fight or something like that. I had no idea. “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 200 metres away — which was surreal.”
New York-based Iraqi journalist Steven Nabil said he was on his way home from 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 café while he went to get food on a different floor. “Heard shots, ran fast toward her,” he wrote. “Came down the stairs to see the court empty and the terrorist firing toward us.
“We then took cover in a closet inside a hair salon. The 45 minutes we were sitting ducks waiting to find out who will open the door. ”
Judy Favish, the director of the institutional planning department at the University of Cape Town, was checking in on her way home from Ireland.
As others scattered, she huddled under the counter with ground staff. “After about 10 minutes someone told us we had to move and we were ushered, running, down to the basement. A couple of people who had been injured were with us and they were still bleeding and very shaken,” she told eNCA television.
“A couple of people had major panic attacks downstairs. We were there for about two hours and then they said we could go and ushered us out. We walked through the airport and saw debris and blood. It was just chaos. It was horrible.” — AFP
Turkey’s ‘war on terror’ lumps all enemies together
Turkey has been hit by a wave of attacks over the past year that have claimed the lives of more than 260 people, mainly in the capital Ankara and the country’s biggest city Istanbul.
The military is also waging an offensive against Kurdish rebels in the southeast of the country that has left hundreds dead on both sides since the conflict reignited last year.
Islamic State jihadists have been blamed for some of the bloodiest assaults in Turkey, including an October 2015 attack on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara that killed 103 people in the worst attack in Turkey’s modern history.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Wednesday that the group was probably behind the carnage at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which killed 41 people including foreigners and wounded more than 200.
Turkey was initially criticised by its Nato allies for not doing enough to crack down on Islamic State as its fighters seized large swaths of neighbouring Iraq and Syria in 2014.
But after a bombing blamed on the jihadists in the town of Suruç near the Syrian border in July last year, Turkey swiftly went on the offensive, hitting Islamic State targets in Syria as well as Kurdish militants.
It has incorporated both campaigns into a broad “war on terror”, even though the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the jihadists are opposed to each other, and Kurdish fighters are at the forefront of the battle against Islamic State in Syria.
Over the past year, Turkey has rounded up scores of suspected Islamic State members, which is thought to have set up sleeper cells in many areas.
In the face of sustained pressure from the United States, Turkey launched its first air strikes on Syria as part of the US-led coalition in August last year, and authorised the US to use its strategic air base at Incirlik.
Islamic State has claimed attacks targeting Syrian activists in Turkey but none of the major bombings.
Kurdistan Workers’ Party
The PKK and the Turkish military have been locked in a year of deadly tit-for-tat violence that shattered a fragile March 2013 truce.
The Kurdish militant group, outlawed by Turkey and its Western allies, has waged an armed campaign against Ankara for three decades that has killed 45 000 people, mainly in the Kurdish-dominated southeast.
PKK fighters have carried out attacks against police and the military since the collapse of the truce triggered by the Suruç bombing.
It has not claimed any of the attacks over the past year in Istanbul and Ankara. But the government has vowed no let-up in its campaign to wipe the rebels from urban centres, often imposing punishing curfews on towns and villages and bombarding hideouts in northern Iraq.
The PKK, which has its main command base across the border in Iraq, has narrowed its demands from outright independence to autonomy as well as cultural and language rights.
In 2012, Turkish intelligence officials resumed talks aimed at ending the conflict, holding several meetings with jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in his remote island prison cell.
In March the following year, Öcalan called on his fighters to lay down their arms and withdraw to their Iraq bases and the fragile ceasefire held until mid-2015. The PKK is believed to have between 3 000 and 5 000 guerrillas.
Kurdistan Freedom Falcons
The shadowy Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) has claimed a string of bombings in Istanbul and Ankara. The TAK, seen as a PKK splinter group, has said its actions are in revenge for Turkish army operations in the southeast.
It claimed an attack on a police vehicle in Istanbul in June that killed 11 people, as well as bombings in Ankara in February and March that left a total of 63 people dead.
The group claimed to have shelled Istanbul’s second international airport, Sabiha Gökçen, in December.
Although little is known about the group, analysts consider its aims and methods to be more radical than those of the PKK. — AFP