Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Wednesday that early signs suggested the Islamic State terror group was behind a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul airport, announcing that the death toll in the attack had risen to 36.
“According to the most recent information, 36 people have lost their lives,” Yildirim told journalists at the scene of the attack, adding that “the evidence points to Daesh”, using another name for IS.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said 147 were wounded. Another senior government official told The Associated Press the death toll could climb much higher.
The senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, at first said close to 50 people had already died, but later said that the figure was expected to rise to close to 50.
The three suicide bombers opened fire at passengers with automatic rifles before blowing themselves up, Yildirim said.
He did not identify the bombers or give their nationality.
The prime minister added that the attackers had arrived at the airport by taxi. He ruled out any security failings at Ataturk, one of Europe’s busiest air hubs.
Asked whether a fourth attacker might have escaped, he said authorities have no such assessment but are considering every possibility.
The victims included some foreigners, he said, adding that many of the wounded have minor injuries but others are more badly hurt.
Another Turkish official said two of the attackers detonated explosives at the entrance of the international arrivals terminal after police fired at them, while the third blew himself up in the parking lot.
The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government protocol and cited interior ministry information, said none of the attackers managed to get past security checks at the terminal’s entrance.
Turkish airports have security checks at both the entrance of terminal buildings and then later before entry to departure gates.
Roads around the airport were sealed off for regular traffic after the attack and several ambulances could be seen driving back and forth. Hundreds of passengers were flooding out of the airport and others were sitting on the grass.
Hevin Zini, 12, had just arrived from Duesseldorf, Germany, with her family and was in tears from the shock.
“There was blood on the ground,” she told The Associated Press. “Everything was blown up to bits… if we had arrived two minutes earlier, it could have been us.”
South African Judy Favish, who spent two days in Istanbul as a layover on her way home from Dublin, had just checked in when she heard an explosion followed by gunfire and a loud bang.
She says she hid under the counter for some time.
Favish says passengers were ushered to a cafeteria at the basement level where they were kept for more than an hour before being allowed outside.
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.
“We came up from the arrivals to the departures, up the escalator when we heard these shots going off,” Paul Roos said. “There was this guy going roaming around, he was dressed in black and he had a hand gun.”
The private DHA news agency said the wounded, among them police officers, were being transferred to Bakirkoy State Hospital.
Turkey has suffered several bombings in recent months linked to Kurdish or Islamic State groups.