TURKEY BOMB ATTACK AFTERMATH ataturk airport.jpg
An armed Turkish policeman patrols behind a police line after multiple suicide bomb attacks at Ataturk international airport in Istanbul, Turkey, 29 June 2016.
Photograph: EPA/SEDAT SUNA

The first departures took off from Istanbul's Ataturk international airport Wednesday, as the major global transit hub partially resumed operations following a brutal attack killing 36 people and causing carnage, with Islamic State the top suspect.

Planes had already begun landing just before dawn, after the airport - one of the largest in the region - had been totally shut for several hours following the triple suicide bombing the previous evening which was focused on the arrivals terminal.

Foreign nationals were among the killed and injured, with Turkish citizens making up the largest portion of the victims, officials said, confirming an Iranian and a Ukrainian were killed.

Delays remained widespread after hundreds of flights were cancelled or postponed immediately after the attack, which involved guns and explosives and caused damage to the airport. Witnesses said there was chaos and panic in the moments during and after the attack.

Turkish airlines, which had to cancel more than 340 flights, was offering refunds or alternative tickets, but there still was chaos for many travellers, including people who fled the airport attack.

The attack comes as Turkey's key tourism sector is already being battered in recent months due to terrorist attacks and a diplomatic row with Russia. The number of foreign visitors decreased by 35 per cent in May, the latest in a string of steep monthly declines.

The building's exterior and interior had suffered some damage in the multiple explosions and gunfights between police and the assailants, whose nationality has not yet been confirmed. No group has claimed the attack.

Three suicide bombers who arrived by taxi struck on Tuesday around 9:20 pm (1820 GMT), killing 36 people besides themselves and leaving an estimated 147 injured, officials said.

Witnesses and local media reports said there were explosions and gunfire at different points in the international area of the airport, including inside the building.

Islamic State was the primary suspect, said Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, who visited the airport overnight and announced it open to inbound and outbound flights.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the "terrorist attack" on "innocent civilians."

The US State Department had issued a warning of "increased threats" in fellow NATO member Turkey on Monday. US aviation authorities grounded all flights to and from Istanbul after the attack though airport data showed some flights from North America had resumed.

One of the attackers detonated explosives inside the terminal by a security check, while another blew himself up outside the terminal and the third in a parking area, Turkish officials said.

Ataturk has security checks with X-ray machines and metal detectors both at the entrance to the terminal, before the check-in counters, and again by passport control.

Tuesday's attack was the worst in Istanbul in more than a decade. Islamic State has been blamed for a number of attacks in Turkey over the past year.

Three weeks ago, 11 people were killed in an attack near Istanbul's historic Grand Bazaar, claimed by a Kurdish splinter group. There were two other attacks in the city this year, both blamed on Islamic State, plus car bombings in the capital Ankara.

In December, Sabiha Gokcen airport in Istanbul was hit by mortar fire claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), killing at least one staff member.

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