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The attack took place at the entrance of the international arrivals area in Terminal 2 of the third-busiest airport in Turkey. Photo: AFP
The attack took place at the entrance of the international arrivals area in Terminal 2 of the third-busiest airport in Turkey. Photo: AFP

Why do terrorists attack airports?

The Istanbul bombings is only the latest in a series of airports that have been attacked by terrorists

Turkey’s main airport, the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, came under attack from suspected Islamic State bombers on Tuesday night. The attack took place at the entrance of the international arrivals area in Terminal 2 of the third-busiest airport in Turkey. Turkish officials said that three suicide bombers opened fire before detonating their explosives and blowing themselves up. At least 36 people have died and 147 have been reported wounded.

The attack, as Reuters reported, “bore similarities to a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants at Brussels airport in March that killed 16 people. A coordinated attack also targeted a rush-hour metro train, killing a further 16 people in the Belgian capital."

Since June 2015, Turkey has come under attack at least 14 times by militants, belonging to both the Kurdish separatists and the Islamic State. Istanbul alone has been a target four times since last year, with Kurdish militants targeting a tourist area in central Istanbul earlier this month (7 June). “Kurdish militants, who have been in armed conflict with the Turkish government for decades, struck at least eight times," the New York Times reported. The report added that the Islamic State had launched “the deadliest attacks, targeting popular and crowded places".

But why do terrorists attack airports? “Attacks on airports give terrorists the symbolic value they seek and guarantee the attention of the international news media. They also create alarm locally," wrote security analyst and terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins in 2011. Besides the panic they generate, Jenkins wrote, these attacks force tourists and business executives to re-evaluate their local plans.

Attacks on airports have steadily increased over the last few years. However, it is not a particularly new phenomenon. Here’s a list of airports that have been attacked by terrorists.

The Lod Airport (1972)

The 1972 attack on the Lod Airport in Israel is widely regarded as the first such attack on an airport. On that occasion, members of the Japanese Red Army, which was an ally of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations, fired indiscriminately at airport staff and passengers and lobbed hand grenades at those disembarking from another aircraft. The attack left 26 people dead, while injuring 80 others.

The LaGuardia Bombing (1975)

On 29 December 1975, a bomb exploded at the TWA baggage reclaim area of the airport’s central terminal. The New York Times in 2008 reported that the bomb, “equivalent to 25 sticks of dynamite, shattered plate glass windows 30 feet high, spraying glass shards like shrapnel, and hurled metal from shattered baggage carousels and coin-operated lockers." The attack claimed 11 lives, and left 75 others wounded. The LaGuardia Bombing remains unsolved, with investigators failing to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

Heathrow Airport bombing (1984)

In April 1984, London’s Heathrow airport saw a bomb explode in a baggage area, leaving 23 people wounded, one seriously. According to a 1984 Associated Press report, “Airport officials said about 60 people were in the baggage area when the bomb, which may have been in an unclaimed suitcase, exploded." No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Narita bombing (1985)

The bombing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport took place on 23 June 1985, when a piece of luggage that was being transferred to Air India Flight 301 exploded, and killed two Japanese baggage handlers in the process. The explosion also killed four others. An hour after the Narita explosion, a bomb exploded mid-air in Air India Flight 182, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, while in Irish airspace. The flight was en route to Delhi when the bombing happened. Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national, was convicted in 2003 for his role in the Narita bombing and the Kanishka bombing. Reyat was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Rome and Vienna airport attacks (1985)

Two simultaneous attacks took place in Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport and Vienna’s Schwechat Airport in December 1985. The twin attacks were carried by Palestine terror group Abu Nidal Organisation. While the attack in Rome left 16 dead and 99 wounded, the Vienna attack saw three people lose their lives and wounded 39 others.

Bandaranaike International Airport (2001)

Two months before the 11 September attacks, the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo became a target for an audacious terror attack by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE. The attack saw 14 LTTE members infiltrate the Katunayake air-base where the airport is located and attack military aircrafts. Later, members from the same group attacked the Bandaranaike airport, blowing up and damaging several civilian aircrafts. All 14 LTTE terrorists were neutralised during the operation, while seven Sri Lankan military personnel were killed and 12 others wounded.

Madrid-Barajas Airport bombing (2006)

In December 2006, a van bomb exploded in the parking area of the Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas airport. The attack occurred in Terminal 4. The attack killed two people and injured 52 others. Basque nationalist-separatist group Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, commonly known as the ETA, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Glasgow International Airport attack (2007)

In Scotland’s first terror attack since the Lockerbie Bombing in 1988, terrorists rammed a Jeep Cherokee, loaded with propane cannisters, into the glass doors of the Glasgow International Airport. One of the suicide bombers, Kafeel Ahmed died, while five others were injured in the blast. The other suicide bomber, Bilal Abdullah, was in 2009 convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Glasgow attack came 24 hours after the failed London car bombs plot.

Domodedevo International Airport attack (2011)

Russia’s busiest international airport, the Domodedevo International Airport in Moscow, came under attack in January 2011, when suicide bombers blew themselves up at the airport’s international arrival area. 37 people were killed in the attack, while 173 others were wounded. The terror group led by Duku Umarov, the Caucusus Emirate, which seeks to establish an Islamic emirate in the North Caucuses, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Jinnah International Airport attack, Karachi (2014)

The Jinnah International Airport, the busiest airport of Pakistan, came under a virtual siege in June 2014, when 10 attackers from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) or the Pakistani Taliban, dressed as security guards, stormed the cargo terminal of the airport. At the end of a five-hour siege, the operation finally ended with 36 deaths, including militants. The attack also left 18 people wounded, besides damaging two Pakistan International Airlines aircrafts, and one Air Indus aircraft.

Brussels Airport, Zaventem (2016)

In March this year, two suicide bombers attacked the departure hall at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem. The bombers arrived at the airport, carrying large suitcases with explosives. The two attacks, carried out at check-in rows, occurred seconds after each other. Investigations identified the suicide bombers as Ibrahim el Bakraoui and Naajim Laachraoui. The attack at Zaventem claimed 16 lives.

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