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Turkey's Prime Minister links Islamic State to airport attack that killed at least 36
[ANKARA] Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said early investigations indicated Islamic State was behind a suicide attack at Istanbul's main international airport that killed at least 36 people.
"According to analyses by our security forces, first indications point at Daesh as perpetrators," Mr Yildirim told reporters at Ataturk Airport, using the Arabic abbreviation for Islamic State.
"What is noteworthy is that this attack came at a time when our country is putting up a merciless fight against separatist terrorism and recording significant success."
Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said three suicide bombers took part in the attack late Tuesday near security checkpoints at the entrance to the airport's arrivals hall. Justice minister Bekir Bozdag said at least 36 deaths were confirmed, with 147 people injured.
Mr Bozdag earlier told lawmakers in parliament that one attacker had sprayed gunfire from a Kalashnikov rifle at people around him before blowing himself up. None of the attackers got past security controls, according to a Turkish official who asked not to be identified because he's not authorised to talk to the press. He said two of them detonated their vests at the arrival hall, and a third in a nearby parking lot.
Mr Yildirim said Turkey's air traffic was back to normal as of 2:20am local time. Turkish Airlines, the national carrier, said in an earlier e-mail it suspended all flights until 8am on Wednesday.
"First I heard the gunfire, then the explosions," said Koray Arslan, who was at the nearby domestic terminal.
"They were very powerful. I could feel the tremors under my feet."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Both Islamist and Kurdish militants have carried out bomb attacks in Turkey in recent months, hammering the nation's vital tourism industry. Turkey has been hit by spillover from the civil war in neighboring Syria, where Islamic State controls territory along the Turkish border, and the army is also fighting an escalating war with separatist Kurdish rebels.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an e-mailed statement that the Istanbul airport attack was an effort to hurt Turkey's image.
"For the terrorist organisations, there's no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago, Antalya and Rome," he said.
There were foreign citizens among the dead and injured, although the majority were Turks, the Turkish official said. Their nationalities weren't immediately clear.
The attack is "yet another reminder, as if any was needed, that Turkey faces the perfect storm of terrorist threats," Anthony Skinner, a director with UK-based forecasting company Verisk Maplecroft, said by e-mail.
The spread of violence in Turkey is scaring off tourists. Last month saw the biggest slump in visitor numbers on record.
The lira trimmed gains after the reports of the explosions. It was trading at 2.9049 per US dollar at 12:20 am in Istanbul.
The attack is also the latest to target airports and the aviation industry in the Middle East and Europe, coming three months after suicide bombers struck Brussels airport. It serves as reminder of the vulnerability of airport lobbies and other public places where large numbers of people congregate, said Hans Weber, an aviation consultant in San Diego.
"The probability of copycat attacks goes way up high after one of those attacks," said Mr Weber, who advised the US federal government on airport security issues following the Sept 11 attacks.
"From a terrorist perspective, Brussels was a success. You can see how they would be motivated to copy that."
Last year, a Russian passenger jet was brought down over the Sinai Peninsula after taking off from the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Islamic State's affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for the incident.
The US is "still collecting information and trying to ascertain" who carried out the Istanbul blast, Secretary of State John Kerry said at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. He said such attacks have become "daily fare" at a time when the world needs to counter violence by non-state actors.
The White House condemned the attack and expressed support for Turkey, a Nato ally. Both the main candidates to take over from President Barack Obama also weighed in.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, said the US must "deepen our cooperation with our allies and partners in the Middle East and Europe," and her likely Republican opponent, Donald Trump, said the US must "take steps now to protect America from terrorists".