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Turkish PM Calls for National Unity as Airport Death Toll Rises

  • Lou Lorscheider
  • Dorian Jones

An injured woman covers her face as she is carried by paramedics into ambulance at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey, following explosions at the facility, June 28, 2016.

An injured woman covers her face as she is carried by paramedics into ambulance at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey, following explosions at the facility, June 28, 2016.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim issued a call for national unity early Wednesday, as his country faced a rising death toll from a suicide attack that killed at least 41 people at Istanbul's Ataturk international airport.

Yildirim, flanked by members of his cabinet, said three suicide bombers arrived by taxi Tuesday evening at the busy airport and opened fire with automatic weapons, shooting randomly at bystanders before detonating explosives as police closed in.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the attack wounded 147 people.

VOA's Dorian Jones in Istanbul said one of the bombers detonated his explosives outside the international arrival terminal. That area is usually packed with people waiting for transportation. The two other attackers are believed to have tried to enter the terminal, which is protected by heavily armed police and X-ray machines.

A scene at Istanbul Ataturk Airport following explosions at the facility, June 28, 2016. (VOA Turkish service)

A scene at Istanbul Ataturk Airport following explosions at the facility, June 28, 2016. (VOA Turkish service)

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But Yildirim said early evidence pointed to an attack by Islamic State extremists, whom he identified by the Arabic pejorative Daesh. He called the attack "cowardly" and vowed his country would continue to press its fight against extremism.

"Unity will be the best answer to terrorists," he said.

Islamic State is blamed for two suicide bombings earlier this year in Istanbul targeting foreign tourists. The group has not claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack.

The Kurdish rebel group PKK also has carried out suicide bombings, but it usually targets security forces, as it did this month in an attack on a police bus that killed 11 people.

Ataturk airport, in Istanbul, Turkey

Ataturk airport, in Istanbul, Turkey

In the last year, both Ankara and Istanbul have seen scores killed in bombings, blamed both on Islamic State and Kurdish rebels.

Television footage Tuesday showed scenes of bedlam at Ataturk, Turkey's largest airport and one of the busiest in the world.

WATCH: Eyewitnesses Describe Chaos at Istanbul Airport

One witness described the scene to VOA's Turkish service: "There were two small explosions and then a large one. People scattered everywhere. They didn't know where to go. We were waiting for my sister, but couldn't find her. We're [still] waiting."

A second witness also sought to give words to the chaos: "In one direction there were shots, in another direction there were bombs, and people ran out as fast as they could, and there were people bleeding on the sidewalk."

The attack triggered a closed session of the Turkish parliament, where opposition leaders were expected to question Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag about details of a recent U.S. travel warning for Turkey. MPs also were believed to be focusing on whether any security lapses could have contributed to the airport attack.

Forensic experts work outside Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey, following explosions, June 28, 2016.

Forensic experts work outside Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Turkey, following explosions, June 28, 2016.

Ataturk is a major transport hub for international travelers. All flights there were suspended after the attack, but the prime minister said operations had been normalized by early Wednesday.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department had issued a travel advisory for Americans going to Turkey.

VOA's Turkish service contributed to this report.

In Photos: The scene at Istanbul's Atatruk Airport

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