Islamic State in the crosshairs as suicide squad hits Istanbul

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The Australian
June 30, 2016

Turkey has blamed Islamic State for the cold-blooded slaughter of at least 41 people at Istanbul’s international airport when three ­suicide bombers jumped out of a taxi and sprayed gunfire at travellers before blowing themselves up.

The Australian Federal Police presence at Australia’s largest airports was increased in the wake of the latest airport atrocity just months after a frighteningly similar attack in Brussels in March.

Australians were not listed among the 13 foreign victims at the busy Ataturk International Airport, which is the entry point for most of the 40,000 Australians who visit Turkey each year, many on a ­pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Malcolm Turnbull condemned the attacks, which also wounded 239 people, as a “reminder that ­Islamist terrorists seek to ­destroy, divide and kill Muslims as well as Christians and other ­people of non-Muslim faiths”.

The Prime Minister said ­Australians had a special kinship with Turkey forged by the shared ­horror of Gallipoli.

“So many Australians have visited Turkey and particularly have visited Gallipoli. So Australia and Turkey have a common bond,” Mr Turnbull said. “Both our countries’ foundation stories were told at Gallipoli.”

Bodies were scattered outside and inside the Ataturk terminal, where men, women and children were mown down by three gunmen dressed in black at 10pm on Tuesday (5am AEST yesterday). Turkish officials say the three ­terrorists caught a taxi to their target, jumping out of the vehicle at the entrance to the departure lounge and opening fire at passengers who were passing through ­preliminary security checks to get into the terminal building.

When police returned fire, two of the gunmen detonated their ­explosives vests, with the blinding explosions caught on CCTV camera and leaving bodies strewn across the pavement.

The third gunman made it ­inside the terminal building and randomly opened fire on anyone near him.

“He was just firing at anyone coming in front of him. He was wearing all black. His face was not masked. I was 50m away from him,” said South African tourist Paul Roos.

“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.

“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.”

CCTV footage shows the third terrorist being shot by police as he runs through the terminal and then writhing on the floor as he tries to detonate his vest before he blows himself up and those around him.

What appeared to be a policeman approached him before running and being engulfed in the explosion. A woman named Duygu was at passport control when she threw herself onto the floor after hearing an explosion: “Everyone started running away. Everywhere was covered with blood and body parts. I saw bullet holes on the doors.”

Turkish Prime Minister Banali Yildirim said initial findings suggested ISIS was responsible for the attacks although no group has yet claimed responsibility. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the world must unite to defeat the terror group. “If states, as all humanity, fail to join forces and wage a joint fight against terrorist organisations, all the possibilities that we dread in our minds will come true one by one,” Mr Erdogan said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs toughened its travel advice on Turkey following the assault. Australia remains on at “high” level of alert with ASIO maintaining its national terrorism threat level as “probable”. The Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development called on Australians to review security in public areas In Turkey.

The Istanbul attack is the fifth major bomb attack in Istanbul this year as Turkey is confronted by the twin threat of ISIS and a Kurdish insurgency. The attacks, which have also occurred in the capital Ankara, resulted in tourist numbers dropping to a 17-year low in April. Turkey had been one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations for Australians with 40,000 visiting in 2013.

While Turkey was criticised by the West for not doing enough to fight Islamic State and allowing foreign fighters to transit through Turkish territory to Syria, Ankara has toughened its stance against ISIS, angering the terror group.

Yesterday’s attack came only days after ISIS was defeated in the battle for the strategic Iraqi city of Fallujah, in another battlefield setback for the group. It is unclear if this was a factor in the timing of the attack.

It follows the similar style ISIS attack on March 22 in Brussels where suicide bombers attacked the international airport and a metro station killing 32 people. On November 13 in Paris 130 people were killed in ISIS gun and bomb attacks.