Turkey Declares National Day Of Mourning After Airport Attack
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The identities of the dead and wounded in yesterday's attack in Istanbul are still emerging. Most of the victims are Turks. At least 42 people were killed, and more than 200 were wounded. Turkey declared a day of mourning today. The prime minister blames ISIS for what's said to have been a triple suicide bombing.
In a moment we'll hear why one expert says this attack is a turning point for Turkey. First here's NPR's Leila Fadel who spent time today at Ataturk Airport where the attack took place.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: People are rolling their bags through the arrivals hall. I overhear a conversation from a diplomat about French nationals. I see parts of the ceiling missing, and behind me there's radiating cracks in the glass windows. Just yesterday there was a huge tragedy right here, and today the airport is open and functioning.
RACHA HAMZA: Oh, my God. People passed away yesterday, like, in this place, and today everything is normal.
FADEL: That's Racha Hamza, a 24-year-old student. She's waiting to get a flight home to Algeria. In the terminal, the blood has been wiped away. Workers are painting, repairing the ceiling and building scaffolds to fix the damage and get back to business as usual. The floors are newly bleached, but there's still the faint smell of stale flesh and blood. And Hamza was here trying to make this same trip home yesterday when the attack occurred.
HAMZA: Everything was normal. It was time to go to our gate. We went to the gate. We sat. We ate. And we were just sitting there, and then we heard something like - everything was shaking. Like, the sound was very strong. At the same moment, we saw people running.
FADEL: She describes mass panic. Today Turkey is trying to put together the details through video, pictures, witness accounts and official statements. Three men showed up at the airport in a taxi. They drew suspicion because they wore jackets in the middle of summer.
It seems right now that security forces slowed their entry deep into the airport. The men opened fire. Two of them detonated their suicide vests inside the arrivals hall, and a third detonated in the parking lot just outside.
The exact sequence of events is still unclear, and amid all this, Hamza and her sister were with a group of people that forced through a door onto the plane they were supposed to take.
HAMZA: Yeah, this is the moment we broke the door.
FADEL: They show me a video they shot on a cell phone. Passengers claw at the closed glass doors at the boarding gate that leads to the jetway.
HAMZA: They told us there is a terrorist is coming, so we used all our force to just open that door and...
FADEL: For four hours, the sister sat on that plane, hoping to fly to safety. But the ground staff had run away. These two women survived uninjured. So many others did not. Less than five miles away, distraught family members sit outside a hospital.
EMINEH: (Foreign language spoken).
FADEL: A Turkish woman named Emineh sits on a bench, waiting to hear news of her brother. He's in his second surgery already. He was picking up her daughter from the airport. She lives in Germany and was going to surprise her mom. When the first blast went off, he tried to help the wounded, but in the second bombing, he was hit with shrapnel. She's praying for him to live.
EMINEH: (Through interpreter) I've been here since last night. I haven't had a wink of sleep. We are feeling great pain now. May God prevent bigger pain.
FADEL: She only gives her first name because she's critical of the government and doesn't want to get in trouble. She says government officials sit in their seats of power while regular people like her family face atrocities like this.
Like other Turks, she blames the government for not preventing these attacks. This is the fourth in Istanbul this year. She says a few extremists are turning the country into hell.
FADEL: He's in the intensive care (unintelligible).
Then she rushes off to be with her brother. By the end of the day, names and pictures of some of the dead are flashing on local television - a 27-year-old female airport worker, a customs officer who reportedly shot and stopped one bomber from getting close to crowds, a tour guide who has a toddler at home and a baby on the way. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.