Explosions Rock Istanbul Airport, Multiple Deaths Reported

Explosions rocked Turkey's largest airport Tuesday night, killing at least 10 people and wounding dozens more, officials said.

Authorities and witnesses said terrorists opened fire at the entrance of the international arrivals area at Ataturk International Airport before explosives were detonated.

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Deputy of Istanbul Eren Erdem said on Twitter that 10 people were dead and at least 20 were injured. The Associated Press reported that nearly 50 people were killed, according to an unnamed senior Turkish official. The death toll could not be independently confirmed by NBC News.

The U.S. State Department said it was determining if any victims were Americans.

At least two blasts occurred at a busy terminal that serves as a major travel hub, particularly for people moving between Europe and Asia. U.S. carriers were halted from flying directly into Turkey — a country that has become the main transit point for foreign fighters in and out of Syria, where ISIS controls part of the country.

A person who works for a contractor inside the airport told NBC News that he saw three suicide bombers.

Reported explosions and gunfires at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016.
Source: Google Maps
Reported explosions and gunfires at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016.

The employee, who identified himself as Omar, said he heard an explosion and then saw police dive onto a man who then blew himself up. People tried to stop another person who appeared to be wearing explosives.

A porter who works at the airport gave a similar account to NBC News, and said he heard a third explosion outside.

One witness told national broadcaster TRT that he saw two attackers open fire and then blow themselves up as authorities responded at a security checkpoint outside the international terminal. At least one of the gunmen was armed with an AK-47, said TRT, quoting the justice minister.

The account could not be immediately confirmed by NBC News.

Paramedics assist the injured after a reported explosion went off at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport.
Osman Orsal | Reuters
Paramedics assist the injured after a reported explosion went off at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

Two South African tourists, Paul and Susie Roos from Cape Town, were at the airport and due to fly home at the time of the explosions Tuesday. They were shaken by what they witnessed.

Paul said: "We came up from the arrivals to the departures, up the escalator when we heard these shots going off."

He added: "There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a hand gun."

Video posted to social media shows travelers hiding in an airport store amid the chaos:

A video posted by Yana (@yana_chizhanova) on

Turkish media reported the sound of gunfire, and video from the scene showed ambulances racing to the terminal and people yelling.

"Passengers (were) running everywhere, scurrying. I was hiding," a witness told TRT.

Checkpoints were set up around the airport in the wake of the explosions. Ataturk International was the 11th busiest airport in the world last year, with 61.8 million passengers, according to Airports Council International.

Facebook set up a "safety check" page to allow people in the Istanbul area to let others know they are safe.

The Turkish government convened a crisis management meeting to discuss the attack.

U.S. officials said the apparent use of suicide bombers had all the hallmarks of ISIS, which has in recent months stepped up bombings in the country, although Turkey has historically suffered attacks from Kurdish separatists.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the airport attack, but rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, have been targeting police and military personnel with bombs since last July, when a fragile peace process between the rebels and the government collapsed.

Experts say ISIS is likely behind the blasts. The terror group in March took responsibility for the attack at the Brussels airport, killing 32 people. Two suicide bombers attacked the departure hall before a metro station was also bombed.

A senior U.S. counterterrorism official told NBC News the Istanbul attack "fits the ISIS profile, not PKK."

"There are only two groups capable of carrying out such a large-scale attack. This does not fit the PKK profile, they go after Turkish targets, not international targets," the official said.

The official was unaware of any "chatter" that threatened an attack, but there remains a "heightened state of alert" throughout Europe for months. There have also been numerous indications of a threat during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends July 5.

Another senior U.S. intelligence official said the attack fits ISIS, adding that "our long summer of discontent has just begun."

The official added that Turkey is one of several Middle Eastern nations that have disagreed with the U.S. assessment of the scale of the ISIS threat.

Ambulances arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, after a reported explosion.
Osman Orsal | Reuters
Ambulances arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, after a reported explosion.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke briefly about the Istanbul blasts Tuesday while at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado, saying the challenge to fight extremism is "daily fare" and authorities face countering "non-state violent actors."

"Yes, you can bomb an airport. You can blow yourselves up," he said, adding, "We have to get it right 24-7-365. They have to get it right for only one hour. ... If you're desperate and you're willing to give your life, then you can do some harm."

James Jeffrey, a former U.S. diplomat who worked in Turkey and Iraq, told MSNBC that ISIS appeared to be the most likely group behind the airport attack.

"There have been four attacks in Turkey by (terrorist groups) in the past year," he said, adding that perimeter security appeared to have prevented the attackers from reaching the airport's crowded terminal area.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department had issued a revised warning to U.S. citizens advising of "increased threats from terrorist groups throughout Turkey."

Earlier this month, a car bomb attack targeting a bus carrying Turkish police killed 11 people. Thirty-six others were wounded in the attack, Istanbul officials said.

Other bombings have included two in Istanbul targeting tourists — which authorities have blamed on ISIS.

The attacks have increased in scale and frequency, scaring off tourists and hurting the economy, which relies heavily on tourism revenues.