ISTANBUL — Multiple explosions and gunfire rocked Turkey’s largest airport Tuesday night, killing at least 41 people and injuring more than 230 others, the latest in a string of potent attacks to hit the country.
Istanbul Gov. Vasip Sahin said three suicide bombers carried out the attack, while Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said at least one attacker opened fire with a Kalashnikov rifle before blowing himself up at the entrance to the airport’s international terminal.
Blasts were heard at the entrance to the international terminal, the domestic terminal and the parking lot, according to the Turkish newspaper, Daily Sabah, and witnesses described a scene of pandemonium and carnage.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Turkey has been the target of recent attacks from Kurdish militants and the extremist group Islamic State, based in nearby Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on governments around the world to “take a firm stand” against terrorism.
“The bombs that exploded in Istanbul today could have gone off at any airport in any city around the world,” Erdogan said in a statement. “Make no mistake: For terrorist organizations, there is no difference between Istanbul and London, Ankara and Berlin, Izmir and Chicago or Antalya and Rome.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. “condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s heinous terrorist attack” in Turkey.
“Ataturk International Airport, like Brussels Airport which was attacked earlier this year, is a symbol of international connections and the ties that bind us together,” Earnest said in a statement.
The attack bore striking similarities to the deadly assault on Brussels Airport in March. “Our thoughts are with the victims of the attacks at @istanbulairport,” the Brussels Airport posted on its Twitter account. “We wish them, their relatives & all airport staff strength & courage.”
In the aftermath of the bombings, hundreds of passengers flooded out of the airport. Every few minutes, an ambulance pulled out, sirens blaring.
Hamidullah Azzizi, one of six Afghans in Turkey on a business trip, said he had just picked up his boarding pass and sat down at a restaurant in the international terminal to break the Ramadan fast when the attack took place.
“We heard gunfire, like bursts. Then at least one explosion,” Azzizi said.
The group sheltered in the restaurant for about 10 minutes, until police arrived and escorted them outside the building. “We are shocked,” Azzizi said. “What can you do in a moment like that? I never thought this would happen in Turkey, in Istanbul, in the airport.”
Nearby, a woman from Saudi Arabia was waiting for news of three missing family members. They were separated in the chaos.
“There were bodies lying everywhere,” she said, distraught. She declined to give her name.
Mohammed Habib, a Moroccan businessman who has lived in Turkey for three years, said he had just checked in for his flight when he saw people running and heard police yelling at them to get out. “They stopped the attacker at the entrance. This shows how good the Turkish security is,” he said. “If they had gotten inside, God knows what they could have done.”
Sinan Kolcu, who had just arrived on a flight from Brazil when the attack occurred, said passengers were held at the airport for more than three hours before being permitted to leave.
“During the evacuation, we saw the damage_it was terrible. Pools of blood on the ground and everything,” he said.
A Turkish Twitter user posted video of what appeared to be one of the explosions, apparently launched after police shot and felled one of the bombers, who then set off his explosives. It showed passengers milling normally, then the apparent bomber running through the terminal and falling, and finally a sharp flash of light followed by flames.
Other images shared on social media depicted a number of bloodied casualties, as searchers combed through debris.
“I saw parts of arms and legs,” wrote a Twitter user at the airport during the attack.
All flights departing the airport were canceled until 8 a.m.
The attack came the day after Turkey and Israel unveiled a deal to normalize diplomatic relations. The countries had been estranged for six years following an Israeli assault on a Turkish flotilla that was carrying aid to the Gaza Strip in defiance of an Israeli blockade.
Nine Turkish activists were killed in the raid and a 10th died in 2014, after being in a coma for four years.
A radical Kurdish faction last year attacked another Istanbul airport, Sabiha Gokcen.
Islamic State has increasingly been targeting tourist spots in Turkey. Suicide bombers have hit the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul, a quarter popular with tourists, as well as the city’s Istiklal Avenue, the busiest thoroughfare in Europe.
Police have captured suspects identified as Islamic State operatives on the country’s western tourism trail and even in the Black Sea city of Trabzon — near the border with Georgia — which has increasingly become a tourism destination for travelers from the wealthy Persian Gulf states.
A home-grown Islamic State cell has carried out a string of potent suicide bombings in the southeastern city of Adiyaman over the last year, forcing Ankara to confront the extremists, whose networks are believed to spread from Istanbul to the Syrian border.