Islamic State prime suspect after suicide bombers kill 41 at Istanbul airport

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Deadly attack on Istanbul airport

Turkish investigators pored over video footage and witness statements on Wednesday after three suspected Islamic State suicide bombers opened fire and blew themselves up in Istanbul's main airport, killing 41 people and wounding 239.

The attack on Europe's third-busiest airport was the deadliest in a series of suicide bombings this year in Turkey, part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and struggling to contain spillover from neighboring Syria's war.

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President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack should serve as a turning point in the global fight against terrorism, which he said had "no regard for faith or values". U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned it in separate phone calls with Erdogan, his office said.

Five Saudis and two Iraqis were among the dead, a Turkish official said. Citizens from China, Jordan, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Ukraine were also among the 13 foreigners killed.

One attacker opened fire in the departures hall with an automatic rifle, sending passengers diving for cover and trying to flee, before all three blew themselves up in or around the arrivals hall a floor below, witnesses and officials said.

Video footage showed one of the attackers inside the terminal building being shot, apparently by a police officer, before falling to the ground as people scattered. The attacker then blew himself up around 20 seconds later.

"It's a jigsaw puzzle ... The authorities are going through CCTV footage, witness statements," a Turkish official said.

Click through images and reactions to the explosions:

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Ataturk airport attack in Istanbul
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Ataturk airport attack in Istanbul
An entrance of the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul after explosions, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing at least 10 people and wounding around 20 others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. (DHA via AP) 
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY AND DEATH Forensic experts work outside Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
People phone and wait with their luggage outside the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016, after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport, killing at least 28 people and injured 20. All flights at Istanbul's Ataturk international airport were suspended on June 28, 2016 after a suicide attack left at least 10 people dead and 20 others wounded, Turkish television stations reported. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish police officers stand outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, late Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) TURKEY OUT
Bodies are seen outside Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Coskun/IHLAS News Agency. 
Medics and security members work at the entrance of the Ataturk Airport after explosions in Istanbul, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (IHA via AP) 
Turkish rescue services gather outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
This picture obtained from the Ilhas News Agency shows ambulances and police intervening next to injured people lying on the ground, after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport of Ataturk in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016. At least 10 people were killed on June 28, 2016 evening in a suicide attack at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said. Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks in the past year, blamed on both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State jihadist group. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
A man carries his daughter outside as people leave the airport after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport of Ataturk in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016. At least 10 people were killed on June 28, 2016 evening in a suicide attack at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said. Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks in the past year, blamed on both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State jihadist group. (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Passengers wait with their luggage outside the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016, after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport, killing at least 10 people and injured 20. All flights at Istanbul's Ataturk international airport were suspended on June 28, 2016 after a suicide attack left at least 10 people dead and 20 others wounded, Turkish television stations reported. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
This picture obtained from the Ilhas News Agency shows emergency workers caring for an injured woman lying on the ground, after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport of Ataturk in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016. At least 10 people were killed on June 28, 2016 evening in a suicide attack at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said. Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks in the past year, blamed on both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State jihadist group. / AFP / ILHAS NEWS AGENCY / - / Turkey OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkish rescue services gather outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (Ismail Coskun, IHA via AP) TURKEY OUT
Bodies are seen outside Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Coskun/IHLAS News Agency
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JUNE 28: Police blocks the entrance of the Ataturk International Airport after an explosion, in Istanbul, Turkey on June 28, 2016. Unspecified number of injured in explosion at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport. (Photo by Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An injured person sits in an ambulance outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding scores of others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fired at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Officials walk inside Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY AND DEATHBodies are seen outside Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Ismail Coskun/IHLAS News Agency. TURKEY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN TURKEY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
In this image taken from DHA TV, a police cordon is set up outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday June 28, 2016. Two explosions rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport on Tuesday evening, according to a Turkish official. (DHA TV via AP)
In this image taken from DHA TV, a police cordon is set up outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday June 28, 2016. Two explosions rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport on Tuesday evening, according to a Turkish official. (DHA TV via AP) TURKEY OUT.
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Paramedics help a man in a wheelchair at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - JUNE 28: Entrance of the Ataturk International Airport after an explosion, in Istanbul, Turkey on June 28, 2016. Unspecified number of injured in explosion at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport. (Photo by Veli Gurgah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Ambulance cars arrive at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Paramedics push a stretcher at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
Turkish rescue services gather outside Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Tuesday, June 28, 2016. Two explosions have rocked Istanbul's Ataturk airport, killing several people and wounding scores of others, Turkey's justice minister and another official said Tuesday. A Turkish official says two attackers have blown themselves up at the airport after police fire at them. The official said the attackers detonated the explosives at the entrance of the international terminal before entering the x-ray security check. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Armed security walks at Turkey's largest airport, Istanbul Ataturk, Turkey, following a blast June 28, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / A policeman gestures at an ambulance after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport of Ataturk in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016. At least 10 people were killed on June 28, 2016 evening in a suicide attack at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said. Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks in the past year, blamed on both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State jihadist group. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / People stand outside the entrance as they leave the airport after two explosions followed by gunfire hit the Turkey's biggest airport of Ataturk in Istanbul, on June 28, 2016. At least 10 people were killed on June 28, 2016 evening in a suicide attack at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk airport, Turkish Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said. Turkey has been hit by a string of deadly attacks in the past year, blamed on both Kurdish rebels and the Islamic State jihadist group. / AFP / OZAN KOSE (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)
Many relatives waiting for loved ones outside Ataturk Airport https://t.co/g7KISOS3vF
Atatürk havalimanında patlamalar silah sesleri https://t.co/EqAz8TUuLK
Hearing news about shootings and suicide bomb blasts at #Istanbul Ataturk International Airport. Ohh not again :( https://t.co/Mgpo3wVhtf
Turkish official says two explosions in Ataturk airport, multiple injuries
Atatürk hava limani bombali saldiri yapildi https://t.co/qWpnLX7sGk
Successive explosions occurred at entrance to the passenger terminal at #Ataturk International Airport in #Istanbul-possibly suicide bombers
#pts: Judging from pics, attack targeted #Ataturk’s International Terminal, which has pre-check-in security measures https://t.co/I4RlXj3kyz
Pictures circulating on Twitter are showing the devastation and panic in Istanbul Ataturk Airport https://t.co/D3XKXUbUv4
#SONDAKİKA! Atatürk Havalimanı'nda patlama... Yaralılar var... İşte ilk görüntüler https://t.co/NPG6labTAh
Heart hurts. #Turkey, stay strong. #Ataturk
CNN Turk just said 30 ambulances are at Istanbul Ataturk airport.
Injuries reported at the international terminal of Istanbul Ataturk Airport after an explosovia @140journos https://t.co/tvQKg1mYjs
Bombings confirmed to have occurred at #Ataturk International Arrivals/Departures terminal entrance. Suicide bombings increasingly likely
Photos and reports from Ataturk Airport look like 1st suicide bomber detonated outside checkpoint, opening way into terminal for 2nd bomber.
Turkish official: two suicide bombers detonated explosives at entrance of int'l terminal of Ataturk airport after police shot at them.
At least 10 people have been killed in a suicide bombing at Istanbul Ataturk airport: justice minister
Anyone who's ever been knows #Istanbul's Ataturk airport is extremely well protected. This is huge and required careful planning.
Flew through Ataturk airport over spring break. 6 layers of security between terminal doors and plane. How far out can perimeter go?
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The Dogan news agency said autopsies on the three bombers, whose torsos were ripped apart, had been completed and that they may have been foreign nationals, without citing its sources.

Broken ceiling panels littered the kerb outside the arrivals section of the international terminal. Plates of glass had shattered, exposing the inside of the building, and electric cables dangled from the ceiling. Cleanup crews swept up debris and armed police patrolled as flights resumed.

"This attack, targeting innocent people is a vile, planned terrorist act," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters at the scene in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

"There is initial evidence that each of the three suicide bombers blew themselves up after opening fire," he said. The attackers had come to the airport by taxi and preliminary findings pointed to Islamic State responsibility.

Two U.S. counterterrorism officials familiar with the early stages of investigations said Islamic State was at the top of the list of suspects even though there was no evidence yet.

No group had claimed responsibility more than 12 hours after the attack, which began around 9:50 p.m. (1850 GMT) on Tuesday.

VICTIMS OF MANY NATIONALITIES

Istanbul's position bridging Europe and Asia has made Ataturk airport, Turkey's largest, a major transit hub for passengers across the world. The Istanbul governor's office said 109 of the 239 people hospitalized had since been discharged, but the health minister said 41 were still in intensive care.

"There were little babies crying, people shouting, broken glass and blood all over the floor. It was very crowded, there was chaos. It was traumatic," said Diana Eltner, 29, a Swiss psychologist who was traveling from Zurich to Vietnam but had been diverted to Istanbul after she missed a connection.

Delayed travelers were sleeping on floors at the airport, a Reuters witness said, as some passengers and airport staff cried and hugged each other. Police in kevlar vests with automatic weapons prowled the curbside as a handful of travelers and Turkish Airlines crew trickled in.

The national carrier said it had canceled 340 flights although its departures resumed after 8:00 am (0500 GMT).

Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist on his way home, said he saw one of the attackers "randomly shooting" in the departures hall from about 50 meters (55 yards) away.

"He was wearing all black. His face was not masked ... 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," Roos told Reuters.

"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."

AIM TO MAXIMIZE FEAR

The attack bore similarities to a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Brussels airport in March that killed 16 people. A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital.

Islamic State militants also claimed gun and bomb attacks that killed 129 people in Paris last November

"In Istanbul they used a combination of the methods employed in Paris and Brussels. They planned a murder that would maximize fear and loss of life," said Suleyman Ozeren, a terrorism expert at the Ankara-based Global Policy and Strategy Institute.

Turkey needs to work harder on "preventative intelligence" to stop militants being radicalized in the first place, he said.

The two U.S. officials said the Istanbul bombing was more typical of Islamic State than of Kurdish militant groups which have also carried out recent attacks in Turkey, but usually strike at official government targets.

Yildirim said it was significant that the attack took place when Turkey was having successes in fighting terrorist groups and mending ties with some of its international partners.

Turkey announced the restoration of diplomatic ties with Israel on Monday after a six-year rupture and has been trying to restore relations with Russia, a major backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

One of the U.S. officials said there had been a "marked increase" in encrypted Islamic State propaganda and communications on the dark web, which some American officials interpret as an effort to direct or inspire more attacks outside its home turf to offset its recent losses on the ground.

Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the probe, which they said is being led by Turkish officials with what they called intelligence support from the United States and other NATO allies.

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