Suicide attackers armed with bombs and guns struck Turkey’s largest airport Tuesday night, blowing themselves up in a confrontation with the police. At least 31 people were killed in the attack and 147 more were injured, in addition to the attackers, according to the Turkish justice minister, Bekir Bozdag.
The governor of Istanbul, Vasip Sahin, told Turkish news outlets that three suicide bombers took part in the attack.
Another Turkish government official said that shortly before 10 p.m., the police fired shots at two suspected attackers at the entryway to the airport’s international arrivals terminal, in an effort to stop them before they reached the building’s security checkpoint. The two suspects then detonated their bombs, the official said. The third attacker detonated explosives in the parking lot, another official said.
There appeared to be no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the attack in a statement. “I hope the attack at the Ataturk airport will be a turning point in the world, and primarily for the Western states, for a joint struggle against terror organizations,”Mr. Erdogan said, adding that the attack “revealed the dark face of terror organizations targeting innocent civilians.”
A Turkish Twitter user posted a video of what appeared to be footage of the bombing. A sharp flash of light is seen piercing the outside area in front of the airport entrance.
The Turkish broadcaster NTV showed video of airport employees streaming out of the area of the bombing and crowds of travelers walking away, some carrying luggage and some using their cellphones.
Flights to and from Ataturk airport were suspended at least through 8 p.m. Wednesday evening, the Dogan news agency reported. The Federal Aviation Administration said it had halted all flights between Istanbul and the United States.
T24, an internet news site, showed photographs of people bending to help two victims who were lying on the pavement just outside the airport. Birgun, a Turkish newspaper, posted photographs of fallen tiles and shattered pieces of concrete near a line of cabs outside the airport.
A witness told CNN Turk that injured people were being taken away in taxis, Reuters reported.
People across Istanbul expressed shock and frustration at the attack. Ahmet Samanci, 27, a graduate student waiting for a ferry on the Asian side of the city, said he had been at the airport at 5 a.m. to pick up his uncle. “How can people come to Turkey, and for what, if there is no security?” he said, looking out at the water.
Mr. Samanci said that he told his sister, a student at the University at Buffalo in New York, to “just stay there.”
He added: “Generally, there’s very negative energy in the world right now. It is the worst in Turkey.”
Many Istanbul-bound flights on Tuesday night were diverted to Ankara, the capital of Turkey, more than 200 miles to the east. Stranded passengers were left to sort out travel connections or find accommodations for the night.
“Our world is turned upside down,” said Asli Aydintasbas, an analyst who had been aboard a diverted flight. Istanbul “was a happening town, cutting edge in arts and culture — it’s the kind of place that Conde Nast would write about,” she said. “Now this is a Middle Eastern country where these things happen.”
Turkey, she added, “is trying to jump ahead, but it’s being bogged down by its neighborhood.”
Almost immediately after the attack, there was speculation that it was politically motivated, and may have been a response to the recent reconciliation between Turkey and Israel, which announced a wide-ranging deal this week to restore diplomatic relations. The countries had been estranged for six years, after the 2010 episode in which Israeli commandos stormed a ship in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade; 10 Turkish activists were killed in the episode.
Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Turkish columnist, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening, “The fact that the attack came right after the Turkish-Israeli deal might be not an accident.”
Other analysts, though, noted that terrorist attacks involving multiple suicide bombers take time to prepare and are not typically attempted on very short notice.
Some observers sought to link the attack to Turkey’s role in the conflict in neighboring Syria. “Unfortunately, we see the side effects of a disastrous Syria policy that has brought terrorism into the heart of Istanbul and Ankara,” said Suat Kiniklioglu, a former lawmaker in Istanbul. “This is obviously intended to create an atmosphere of chaos and hit the economy and tourism.”
Turkey has been rocked by a series of bombings since 2014, and they have been increasing in frequency. Officials have variously blamed Kurdish separatists or Islamic State militants for the attacks. On June 7, a police van was blown up by Kurdish separatists, killing 11 people, five of them civilians.
Officials have blamed the Islamic State for several recent bombings in Turkey, including in areas of Istanbul that are popular with Western tourists. The Islamic State has generally not claimed responsibility for these attacks, though it is quick to lay claim to attacks elsewhere. Analysts believe that this reflects the group’s dependence on Turkey, the main route for foreign recruits to reach its territory in Syria.
“The Islamic State has never claimed credit for any attacks on civilians in Turkey, as it is an advantage to the group not to,” said Veryan Khan, director of the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium. She noted, though, that the group did claim responsibility for assassinations of opponents in southern Turkey.
Ataturk airport has expanded in recent years and is now the third busiest in Europe, after Heathrow in London and Charles de Gaulle in Paris, when ranked by the annual number of passengers.
On Monday, the State Department renewed a warning it issued three months ago advising American citizens about the danger of travel to Turkey because of terrorist threats.
“Foreign and U.S. tourists have been explicitly targeted by international and indigenous terrorist organizations,” the department said in the warning, which was posted on the State Department’s website.
In New York, security was stepped up at three major metropolitan airports after the news of the attack. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said it had “added high-visibility patrols equipped with tactical weapons and equipment” at John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports.