Istanbul airport attacks kill 36, Turkey blames IS

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Istanbul (AFP) - Turkey Wednesday pointed the finger of blame at Islamic State jihadists after a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul's main international airport killed at least 36 people, including foreigners.

Witnesses described scenes of terror and panic on Tuesday evening as the attackers opened fire and then blew themselves up at the entrance to the international arrivals terminal at Ataturk airport, one of Europe's busiest hubs.

The assault, at the start of Turkey's crucial summer tourist season, was the deadliest of four attacks to rock the country's biggest city this year.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday's carnage but Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said "the evidence points to Daesh", using another name for the jihadist group.

Yildirim told reporters at the scene that the dead included foreigners. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag put the number of wounded at 147.

The attack prompted the suspension of all flights at the airport, but operations were resuming on Wednesday with some delays.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for an international "joint fight" against terror, as Western allies including the United States condemned the "heinous" attack.

Yildirim said the three suicide bombers had arrived in a taxi and opened fire on passengers with automatic rifles before blowing themselves up.

Security camera footage widely circulated on social media appeared to capture two of the blasts. In one clip a huge ball of flame erupts at an entrance to the terminal building, scattering terrified passengers.

Another video shows a black-clad attacker running inside the building before collapsing to the ground -- apparently felled by a police bullet -- and blowing himself up.

Tuesday's attack follows coordinated IS suicide bombings at Brussels airport and a city metro station in March that left 32 people dead.

- 'I can't find my sister' -

An AFP photographer saw bodies covered with sheets at the terminal, which suffered considerable damage but was being repaired on Wednesday.

Bullet holes peppered the windows and shattered glass lay on the floor, while abandoned luggage was scattered everywhere.

Hundreds of police and firefighters including forensic officers were at the scene.

"Somebody came and shot at us and then my sister ran," Otfah Mohamed Abdullah told AFP.

"I don't know which way she ran and after that I fell down. I was on the ground till he (the gunman) stopped... I can't find my sister."

"Everybody started running in different directions when the shooting started. I hid under the counter where I was standing and a couple of the ground staff did the same," South African university administrator Judy Favish told eNCA television in her home country.

Favish said she and other travellers were ushered to the basement before emerging about two hours later.

"We walked through the airport and saw debris and blood. It was just chaos. It was horrible."

There was chaos at the nearest hospital in Istanbul's Bakirkoy district, which was inundated with relatives desperate for news of loved ones.

Brussels airport, the scene of suicide bombings just months ago, tweeted condolences, saying: "Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at @istanbulairport".

The US and French consulates warned people to stay away from the area.

- 'Significant escalation' -

Analyst Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Programme at The Washington Institute, described it as a "symbolic attack against the heart of Turkey".

"If the Islamic State is indeed behind the attack, this would represent a significant escalation by the Islamic state towards Turkey," he added.

The attack came just as Turkey is rebuilding relations with Israel and Russia.

Erdogan met his prime minister and military chief after news of the carnage broke.

"We urge the world, especially Western countries, to take a firm stand against terrorism," Erdogan said in a statement.

"Despite paying a heavy price, Turkey has the power, determination and capacity to continue the fight against terrorism until the end."

Istanbul, a major tourist hub that is home to some 15 million people, has suffered a series of attacks in recent months, including a bombing in the heart of the tourist district that killed a dozen German visitors and was blamed on IS.

Two months later, three Israelis and an Iranian were killed in a bomb attack on the city's main Istiklal shopping street, also blamed on IS.

A blast on the tarmac at Istanbul's other international airport, Sabiha Gokcen, killed a cleaner in December. Security was increased at this airport on Wednesday in the wake of the latest deadly attack.

Turkey has been hit by at least five attacks blamed on IS jihadists, including a blast in Ankara in October 2015 that left over 100 dead.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), -- seen as a splinter group of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) -- also claimed a car bombing in Istanbul in June that killed 11.

It said it was to avenge a sustained offensive against the outlawed PKK in southeastern Turkey following the collapse of a ceasefire last year.

Hundreds of members of the Turkish security forces have since been killed in PKK attacks.

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