Istanbul attackers seized on chaos to cause carnage

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ISTANBUL >> It was an attack that echoed the carnage earlier this year at the Brussels airport, down to the taxi that carried the men to their target: Inciting panic and then taking lethal advantage, three suicide attackers unleashed a deadly tide of bullets and bombs at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, leaving 42 dead.

Authorities blamed the Islamic State for the blood bath late Tuesday, a coordinated assault on one of the world's busiest airports and on a key NATO ally that plays a crucial role in the fight against the extremist group.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility by the militant group.

Although the attack took a heavy toll, the assailants were initially thwarted by the extensive security on the airport's perimeter, Turkish officials said.

"When the terrorists couldn't pass the regular security system, when they couldn't pass the scanners, police and security controls, they returned and took their weapons out of their suitcases and opened fire at random at the security check," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

One attacker detonated his explosives downstairs at the arrivals terminal, one went upstairs and blew himself up in the departure hall, and the third waited outside for the fleeing crowd and caused the final lethal blast, two Turkish officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about the investigation publicly. None of the attackers were Turks, a third official said.

As the chaos unfolded, terrified travelers were sent running first from one explosion and then another. Airport surveillance video showed a panicked crowd of people, some rolling suitcases behind them, stampeding down a corridor, looking fearfully over their shoulders.

Other surveillance footage posted on social media showed one explosion, a ball of fire that sent terrified passengers racing for cover. Another showed an attacker, felled by a gunshot from a security officer, blowing himself up seconds later.

Cihan Tunctas had just disembarked from a flight from Azerbaijan when he heard the sound of gunfire.

"Then the bomb exploded. We were at the exit and ... the roof collapsed on our heads," Tunctas said. The group tried to escape, but their path was blocked by the arrival of a second attacker.

"Two of the security guards noticed him. They walked toward him. Just as they were walking toward him, I turned that way. They just caught him and at that moment he detonated the bomb."

Investigators later found a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a handgun and two grenades on the bodies, according to the state-run Anadolu news service. Raids at two addresses also uncovered encrypted organizational documents and computer files, the news agency said.

Although the government quickly blamed the Islamic State, there was no immediate claim of responsibility by the extremist group, which did not mention the bloodshed on its social media sites Wednesday. However, an infographic released to celebrate the second anniversary of its self-proclaimed caliphate claimed to have "covert units" in Turkey and other countries.


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