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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Turkey: 10 Dead, 20+ Injured in Airport Attack. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 28, 2016 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We have breaking news in our world lead today, and it is bad news. Sirens blaring, confusion, complete chaos, as a terrorist attack rocks Istanbul's Ataturk Airport today.

[16:00:00]

The Turkish minister just said at least 10 people have been killed in the attack. Turkish officials tell CNN that two terrorists blew themselves up in the international terminal of the airport. Officials say police then shot at the suicide bombers before they blew themselves up to try stop them from detonating the explosives on them.

Right now, we don't know how many more people may be hurt and how seriously. Several people are right now being rushed to area hospitals. All traffic in and out of the airport has been stopped.

CNN reporters around the globe are reporting information as fast as we can. This is a very quick-moving story.

Let's go right now to journalist Diana Magnay. She's in London.

Diana, what are you learning? What do we know about these attacks?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is obviously a very serious situation. You can tell from those pictures.

We know that there was two suicide bombers. Multiple explosions is what we had heard from officials earlier and gunfire. It would appear as though the police tried to neutralize these two terrorists, who then detonated their suicide bombs.

Now, we don't know who they are affiliated with, obviously, Jake, but there are two likely suspects. First of all, it could be ISIS. Secondly, it could be Kurdish separatists. The Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, have been very active over the last year, as have ISIS, in terms of suicide attacks in the Turkish capital, Ankara, in Istanbul also.

And Istanbul's Ataturk Airport, this is the third largest airport in Europe. It's a major hub for travel throughout Europe and the Middle East. And we know that these explosions were at the international departures area.

And this is an airport that has very, very high security, Jake. You will have been through it. You know this is a place which would be very tricky for terrorists to come to. So this was obviously a very well-planned attack at a time when the Turkish government is extremely cautious about terror attacks.

We had an attack back in Ankara February and March, two attacks, 28 people killed in one, 30 in another. The Kurdish separatists generally tend to target the apparatus of the state, so police offices and places like that, but ISIS has tended to target civilian targets. And that is clearly what we're seeing here at the Ataturk Airport, Jake.

TAPPER: OK, Diana Magnay, thank you so much.

Let's go now to Barbara Starr. She is live at the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, obviously, this just happened. We're just getting information. Turkey is a country that has several terrorist groups, unfortunately, that operate within its borders, including not just ISIS, but also in the past al Qaeda, also in the past the Kurdish separatist group.

In terms of just looking at the kind of terrorist attack this is, two alleged suicide bombers going into the airport, blowing themselves up, and killing at least eight people, if not more, does that sound more like one terrorist group than any other?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to tell you, Jake, as Diana just pointed out, of course, we don't know, but in talking in the last few minutes with U.S. officials, I would tell you that they are cautioning it may not be ISIS, it may not be al Qaeda. It may in fact be -- and we don't -- the PKK.

This is the Kurdish group that both the Turks and the U.S. consider to be terrorists. The PKK has launched a number of attacks across Turkey, very violent. They have attacked several times in the southern part of the country. And this has been something the U.S. has been watching very carefully.

And it does impact the U.S. because that southern Turkish border with Syria is where the Turks are so concerned in their view that a number of Kurdish groups are trying to establish an independent Kurdish state. And they object to this very strongly. The Kurds know that the Turks are engaging in military operations against them in some cases.

They are staging attacks in return. We don't know, but I will tell you there is a good, hard look being taken at these groups, especially the PKK.

Let me also add in, in the last few minutes, we have learned that the U.S. military now is conducting a head count. They want to know if there were any U.S. military personnel in the airport tonight when this happened. There may also of course be U.S. civilians there.

A travel warning just came -- a updated travel warning just came out from the State Department yesterday. There has been a good deal of concern about Turkey, traveling to Turkey because of all this unrest. U.S. military personnel generally are discouraged from going to Istanbul. They are not sure, but they want to make sure tonight that none of them were there.

[16:05:05]

TAPPER: OK, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, stay with us.

I want to bring in Bob Baer. He of course is the former CIA operative who is a national security consultant for CNN. He joins us on the phone.

Bob, obviously very, very early. And as we know, a lot of times, the early information, even that coming from officials, coming from law enforcement proves to be incorrect. And I want to caution our viewers. The information that we're getting , we're bringing you the best and best-sourced information as soon as we get it. But oftentimes, officials change what they consider to be the status of such a horrific incident like this.

Bob, is there any possible significance to the fact that this attack, two suicide bombers blowing themselves up, that it took place in the international terminal of the Istanbul Airport, and not in a different section? Is there a possible significance, do you think?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jake, you're right.

We just have to wait to see if there is any claims, and what the Turks say, but right now what concerns me is it was against a civilian target, which be unusual for the PKK, the Kurds. The Islamic State, on the other hand, is clearly on an external jihad, if you like.

There has an attack yesterday in Yemen, a horrific attack against the army. You have also had attacks in Jordan and Lebanon. And what concerns me is now that, with the fall of Fallujah and the Islamic State being kicked out, that they are going to turn to external targets.

And Istanbul would be a prime one for them. So, I could be absolutely wrong on this, but I would put the Islamic State at the top of the suspect list.

TAPPER: Certainly, ISIS has certainly been striking at their neighbors to the north, Turkey, the only Muslim majority country in NATO and a country where they consider the majority to be haram, to be unclean, to be infidels, and the idea that they would strike at Turkey would not be unprecedented.

They have done it before. There was a horrific attack where about 100 people were killed, an ISIS attack on Turkey. And those were civilians as well, Bob.

BAER: Yes, but the Kurds like to portray their war against Ankara as a military struggle.

This would be -- a civilian target like this, especially an international target, would be a new stage in the war on Turkey, which it could be. But, again, as you said, Jake, these first reports always turn out to be pretty much wrong. But I think we do have to look at the possibility that the Islamic State is lashing out against us. That -- I do suspect them.

TAPPER: Bob Baer, stay with us.

If you're just joining us, we're following reports that in the international terminal of the Istanbul Ataturk Airport in Turkey, two suicide bombers have blown themselves up. At least 10 individuals are dead, according to the Turkish justice minister.

There have -- there are reports of gunfire, police trying to kill the suicide bombers before they set off their explosives.

Let's bring in Tom Foreman right now to give us a better idea of the lay of the land -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here is where Istanbul right is, spanning between Asia and Europe over here, Bulgaria right there, Syria right down below.

If we move in a little bit closer, you can look at this airport. Around 41, 42 million passengers a year passing through this airport, and this is the international area we're talking about. If we go inside, we can talk about what we know what has been happening inside of here.

All those passengers are going in and out. Heavy security presence at this airport at all times. But in this case, what we're talking about is a very specific area in here. If you move through to the international area, and specifically you start feeding into the security here, there are dozens of security places to go through here.

This seems to be the area that we're talking about. If you look back in here, you can see these are the magnetometers back in here. And of course there are many, so we don't know if this was the specific location.

But, traditionally, you see all the gates here? Obviously, you could have a lot of people backed up in that area. It strikes a resemblance to some of the other attacks we have seen.

And so we know, Jake, that there have been attacks in Istanbul this year that have targeted tourist areas, and that has raised some concern that that might be what is involved here. There's been more warnings about the idea that this may be a dangerous place for people to visit, although it has been a very popular tourist investigation.

But for all the reasons you were mentioning a minute ago, not only ISIS being nearby, and this being a funneling point for many people who have headed toward ISIS, but also because of the constant conflict between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people, and the violence that might be related to that, so this is generally the lay of the land there, the 20th busiest airport on the Earth right now and the third busiest in Europe -- Jake. [16:10:15]

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman.

If you're just joining us, you're looking at live pictures right now from Istanbul, Turkey. Two suicide bombers exploded themselves, detonated their suicide vests. At least 10 people are dead, according to the Turkish justice minister.

I want to bring in Ali Velshi now, who knows the airport very well.

And, Ali, you just heard Tom talk about how big this airport is.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

TAPPER: Tell us about it. Is it a modern, sophisticated airport like anybody might find in Minnesota or anywhere?

VELSHI: Very. Very.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: Yes, more so, actually.

I don't think there is an American airport that is like it. There's some terminals at JFK that look as good. But Turkish airlines and the Turkish government really took a lesson from Dubai and Abu Dhabi and Qatar to make Turkey a hub for travel to eastern destinations. It is filled with business travelers who are on their way somewhere.

And Turkey is the kind of place where you might spend a day as a layover. If they told you, you had three or four hours to kill at Ataturk, there is fantastic food and shopping. If you look at that picture that Tom Foreman just had up, right beyond the security, there was Victoria's Secret.

There are all the major European and American boutiques there. It -- I said earlier that it reminds me when I'm in that airport -- and I was there about two months ago -- it reminds me of the bar from "Star Wars," because you see people of all shapes and colors in all sorts of dress.

If you were wanting to target the cosmopolitan nature of Istanbul, this is possibly the most cosmopolitan, heavily populated part of Istanbul. You can target tourist areas, but this is the part where the world comes together. Most businesspeople who travel to the East will probably have touched Ataturk Airport.

Turkish Airlines is a partner with United Airlines. So, it's a popular destination for people who typically travel on the Lufthansa- United alliance, the Star Alliance. It is a massive, massive airport.

I would say this. To Bob Baer's comment that -- and we don't want to speculate about who did this. If -- I have done some work in Turkey working on ISIS and how it operates. If ISIS had an airport, it would be Ataturk Airport. This is an important piece of infrastructure for ISIS. It used to be

the way you got into Syria. You would take a flight from Ataturk Airport to a city called Gaziantep, which is as far southeast as you can go towards the Syrian border, and you would take a bus or get into Syria that way. So, I would be surprised just because ISIS uses this airport.

TAPPER: All right, Ali Velshi, thanks so much. Stay with us.

Again, if you're just joining us, the breaking news, the Turkish justice minister now saying that 10 people are dead after a terrorist attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. At least 20 others are injured, officials say.

We will have much more on this rapidly developing and horrific breaking news story right after this break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:16:20] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: If you're just joining us here in the United States or around the world, we're covering the breaking news, the tragic news. Two suicide bombers, we are told, touting Kalashnikovs, opening firing inside Istanbul's Ataturk Airport before blowing themselves up. That's according to a Turkish official.

Turkey's justice minister telling CNN that those terrorists killed at least ten people and at least 20 more have been wounded. Officials say one bomb went off just outside the international terminal of the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Another one of the explosives detonated just feet away from the security gate at the entrance to the airport, we're told.

CNN reporters everywhere are working their sources.

Let's bring in right now, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, you were just saying before the break, the State Department just issued a travel warning about Turkey yesterday. What did they say and why?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And specifically urging Americans not to travel to that southeastern border area with Syria. There's been a lot of concern about that area. The U.S. had also restricted its U.S. personnel in that area from traveling outside -- some of the consolidate compounds in that area, and also ordering the families of U.S. employees that were not considered urgent to be in the country to leave the area.

So, there was a lot of concern about that area. Also a lot of concern just in general. There has been a general travel warning for Turkey as we have been talking about. There have been a lot of terrorist attacks not just by ISIS, but also by the PKK. The Turks really battling this two-front war against both terror groups, and the U.S. right now, U.S. officials saying to me that they're not ruling out one or the other.

In some sense you look for the PKK to target more security targets -- Turkish military, or facilities such as that. But this airport, as we have been saying, considered a very strategic location for the Turkish government. And so, right now, looking at both possible options for who could have been responsible, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Elise. And just to give us an idea of how often the State Department issues such warnings, is it common or is it noteworthy when they warn of travel to a place like Turkey?

LABOTT: Well, there has been a general travel warning for Turkey and Europe for some time, southeastern border area, as we've been saying. But there has been increased concern about an attack for some time.

Generally what State Department will say is be careful when you travel. Avoid large crowds. Avoid tourist areas. Make sure hotels you're staying at are fortified.

When they tell Americans not to travel to a place, that is considered a level of intense concern, and particularly in Europe with the Brussels and Paris attacks and some of those terrorist attacks in Turkey, there has been an uptick and concern about what's going on in Turkey, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Elise. Stay with us.

I also want to bring in CNN aviation correspondent Renee Marsh who joins us from our newsroom.

Rene, Istanbul Ataturk Airport is the biggest airport in Turkey, the 11th largest airport in the world. What can you tell us about security levels there especially as they compare to security that we see in airports in Europe and the United States.

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Couple of things, Jake. You're right on the money there. I mean, millions of passengers just last year alone, more than 41 million international passengers, more than 19 million domestic passengers passing through that major hub there in Turkey.

[16:20:04] We do know that as we speak there are still flights taking off and landing, so airport operations are still under way. Now, more about this airport, we do know it is a last point of departure airport. So, that means there are multiple direct flights between that airport and several cities here in the United States. When you have a last point of departure airport, that means that their security standard is set by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. They essentially set the standards for those security check points to make sure that everything is topnotch.

But it appears in this situation here, this incident may have happened outside of the security checkpoint around the airport perimeter. That is the challenge here, you know, securing these targets of these airports that are beyond the security checkpoints. You know, the question is, how far can that security checkpoint essentially go? You have these soft targets, Jake, that just simply remain vulnerable. Not only a concern at international airports. Of course, a concern at domestic airports as well.

TAPPER: That's right. And airports and government buildings keep on -- keep extending the security perimeter more and more. But at some point, they have to have some sort of border. We saw a similar attack, of course, in Brussels, not long ago, right outside of the security perimeter of the airport.

Let's go back to our correspondent, Tom Foreman.

Tom, I see you over there in the other studio taking a deeper dive into the Istanbul Ataturk Airport to try to explain to us where this happened. What have you come up with there?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting a little bit better sense of that right now, Jake. If you look at the layout of the airport, this area up in here is the international area. Generally, we've heard a lot of talk about the fact that there was gunfire near the car park area. If you look about it, this is where security passport control is right here.

So, this would all make sense. And if we move that's to some of the aftermath pictures. This picture we showed you earlier, you'll see that there is actually blast damage here on these clearly very heavy secure windows here. This blast damage that comes through.

And look at this image -- we're just going to move forward on it. This image, see the red, a little kiosk here and the things right over here? If you move forward, this is what that same area looked like right before all of this.

The parking area we're talking about is right outside these windows and if you come inside and you turn over this way, this is a divider over here, but there are security and screening devices right behind this. So, this appears to be, based on those pictures we saw moments, part of what we're talking about. This is the sort of the check in areas around there, off the right as we're seeing the other damage was done. We'll cycle through that one more time so you can see that.

This is an aftermath picture. You can see this was a secured area, big damage up here, this looks in every way to be sort of bullet proof glass, something that would normally take a very strong bunch to get through. And if you go past, this is what the area looked like beforehand for at least one of these attacks, Jake. We haven't pinpointed it yet, but this is where it would have been before with a lot of traffic in there -- Jake.

TAPPER: Very interesting, and I just we're just talking anecdotally, how intense the security is, at this Istanbul Ataturk Airport, and a friend of mine just noted that the security is as extensive as anywhere he's ever seen. He was transferring flights and he had to check his bags through a metal detector twice while transiting from a different flight and they checked his passport five different times during his time in Istanbul. Merchants there anecdotally said that business was down 90 percent, down 90 percent, because of terrorism in Turkey.

If you're just joining us, there is obviously sheer panic inside of Istanbul's airport. Suicide bombers blowing themselves up not long ago.

We'll have more on this breaking news out of Istanbul. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:31] TAPPER: If you are just tuning in, whether in the United States or anywhere around the globe, there is horrific breaking news this hour.

I'm Jake Tapper. You're watching THE LEAD.

We're covering a terrorist attack in Istanbul. Two suicide bombers according to a Turkish official exploded themselves inside Istanbul Ataturk Airport. The Turkish justice minster at this hour says that at least ten people have been killed, at least 20 others injured and being rushed to area hospitals. Pentagon officials here in the United States say that U.S. military is scrambling to do a head count, trying to make sure every single troop across Europe is accounted for.

No, terrorist group has claimed responsibility as of right now, but we have a reporter, CNN Turk reporter Erdem Aydin who is now at the airport, and can bring us this broadcast live.

Erdem, what are you learning from the scene?

ERDEM AYDIN, CNN REPORTER (via telephone): Yes, Jake, I'm at the entrance of Istanbul's (INAUDIBLE). The justice minister said that this was a terrorist attack. And we came here around 45 minutes to one hour ago. By the time we got there. (INAUDIBLE)

And in the background, (INAUDIBLE) and there is -- ten people died, the justice minster said, and 20 people injured. I saw one of them.