Dozens Killed In Attack On Istanbul's International Airport

Jun 29, 2016
Originally published on June 29, 2016 8:00 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We are covering the aftermath of a deadly attack last night at the international airport in Istanbul. According to the Instanbul Governor's Office, more than 40 people were killed, well more than 200 wounded. Our colleague based in Istanbul Peter Kenyon is on the line. Peter, good morning.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So we should say you are in London, where you've been covering the EU referendum, which is a reminder that you travel all the time in your job. And you probably know that airport in Istanbul really well.

KENYON: I do. I have racked up many miles from that airport. But as to last night's attack, Turkey's prime minister says it was three suicide bombers. He says they arrived in a taxi. Two of the blasts occurred at entrances to the arrivals hall. And an eyewitness I've been in touch with says the third shot his way through security and then set off his bomb when police opened fire at him, awaiting confirmation on some of those details. Most of the victims were Turks. But early reports say a Ukrainian and an Iranian among the fatalities and Saudis among the wounded.

GREENE: I mean, we've sadly covered attacks at airports before. I think back to Brussels back in March. And, you know, a bomber actually walked right into the terminal. I mean, is it similar here? What is security like in Istanbul? And what might explain this?

KENYON: The security is better at Ataturk Airport. It is with two layers of security, unlike Brussels. They have a screening and a check passengers at the terminal entrance before you get in. And then after you check in, there's another one before you get to the gate. So anybody transiting, for instance, through Ataturk Airport would be behind two security barriers and pretty far away from where this attack took place. But that's no consolation if you're one of these dozens of families with victims now.

And the question is - where do you put the barrier? Because that becomes the target. At Tel Aviv, for instance, you get checked way before their terminal. In Baghdad, the checkpoints start miles before you get there. And it's a big problem. How do you make travelers more secure without making air travel even more frustrating than it already is? You know, the answer seems to be more intelligence, stop the attacks. And that, of course, as we've seen, is also extremely hard.

GREENE: I mean, more intelligence brings to mind - you have to figure out who - you know, who carried this out. And Turkish authorities already talking about ISIS - but is it too early? I mean, do they have evidence at this point?

KENYON: Well, the prime minister made a very cryptic statement. Early indications are ISIS. And they have carried out attacks all the way from the border to Istanbul in the past year or so. However, that - there's no claim of responsibility. And that's not confirmed. There's also been an ongoing fight with Kurdish militants from the PKK. They have tended to attack a military or police targets. But they have also killed civilians, so they're not being ruled out either.

GREENE: And important to talk about this for a minute, Peter - I mean, people have heard about the Kurds as being allies with the United States in the fight against ISIS. But you bring up the PKK, which is a Kurdish group that has been considered a terrorist group by the United States and other countries, right?

KENYON: Yes, absolutely. And it has greatly complicated the effort to fight ISIS inside northern Syria, for instance, where there are Kurds who are fighting ISIS, which America is very happy to see, not so happy in Ankara, where they say, these people are terrorists. We've got to fight, them, too. So it's a big problem. Critics say Turkey has been too focused on the Kurds and not enough on ISIS. And I think what we'll be seeing now is whether this latest deadly attack get results in any kind of shift in their focus.

GREENE: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome.

GREENE: That was NPR's Instanbul correspondent Peter Kenyon talking to us about a deadly attack last night at the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.