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Interview With Maryland Senator Ben Cardin; Turkey: 28 Dead, 60 Injured in Airport Terror Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired June 28, 2016 - 17:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: The United States had just alerted Americans about terror threats in Turkey. We will tell you what U.S. officials are learning about this attack and the fate of Americans in Turkey right now.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KEILAR: We are following breaking news.

There are at least 28 people dead, 60 injured in a terror attack, a coordinated attack at the main international airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Officials say now that there were three suicide bombers who blew themselves up just outside of the terminal before reaching the first security check.

One attacker reportedly opened fire with a Kalashnikov rifle and then detonated his explosives.

We have correspondents, analysts and guests in the United States and all around the world. They are digging for new information on this breaking story and bringing it to us as they get it.

First, let's go to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, tell us what you're learning.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, tonight, authorities in Turkey are scrambling to identify the dead, help the wounded and figure out who is responsible for a terror attack that shook one of the world's busiest airports.


LABOTT (voice-over): Terror and chaos at Istanbul's main international airport, travelers inside Ataturk Airport running to safety after three suicide bombers blew themselves up, according to Turkish officials. Security cameras captured the moment of the blast, others inside

crouching down after the explosions. All three bombs exploded outside the airport building, according to Turkey's justice minister, with one attacker first shooting a gun before detonating himself.

The U.S. State Department issuing a travel warning just a day before, pointing to the increased threat from terrorist groups throughout Turkey. Turkey, a NATO ally, faces a dual threat from ISIS and al Qaeda just across the border in Syria and Kurdish separatist Republican PKK. So far, none of the groups making a claim of responsibility.


LABOTT: Now, Brianna, as we have discussed, U.S. officials have expressed frustration lately with what they call a double game by Turkey, focusing on the threat by PKK as the bigger threat and blaming it for attacks, even when the signs of previous attacks are pointing to ISIS.

Now, tonight, the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul doing phone trees, trying to account for all of its personnel, making sure that they don't know who might have been at the airport to travel or welcome friends and relatives. They're also sending consular officials to the airport to account for any American victims.

No word yet of any U.S. casualties, though it's very early. And as we remember from the attacks at the Brussels Airport, identifying the victims and their nationalities can be a slow and painstaking process. Tonight, the U.S. Consulate urging Americans to stay away from the airport -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Clarissa Ward again.

There is some video that we're getting. What do we know about this? It's of the moment, it appears, of at least the detonation of one of these explosives.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This is really stunning video, not easy to watch, though, a traumatic moment. It appears to capture from a computer screen. You're looking at a computer screen -- if we can get those pictures up.


KEILAR: Is it a security camera on a computer screen?

WARD: Here we go. Yes.

It is essentially, we're looking at a computer screen with a cell phone the moments before the blast. You saw there people milling around in the departures hall area, it looks like, and then suddenly that bright orange glow as the entire room is illuminated by the blast. KEILAR: And we did -- and it is a very quick flash. We paused it at

the moment of the blast, so that you could see that. But it appears that we're looking from the inside of the airport, because this right there -- and you see the paused blast there.

Looking from inside the terminal, out towards where you see right now in these pictures, where the ambulances are, if you were to be in the U.S., or another area where you go to the airport, and this is where you would get off at the curb. But here at Ataturk Airport, when you get off -- when you get out at the curb, you are about to go through your first checkpoint for security.

WARD: Right, your first screening.

So, essentially, when you arrive at the airport, the glass doors open and right in front of you, there is a large X-ray machine. You're expected to put all of your bags through that X-ray machine. You then have to go through a metal detector, similar to the process you would see in the U.S., only, in the U.S., it is after you check in.

In Turkey and Istanbul, it is before you check in. And what that means, wherever you have an X-ray machine, you have a line. And so usually when you arrive at the international departures area, you will see often a long line of people waiting outside of the building, in line to get through that initial security check.


And, of course, that initial security check is meant to keep the airport safer, but, obviously, a lot of groups now trying to exploit that, because, wherever you have a crowd, you have a potential soft target.

KEILAR: That's what we were talking about. You can minimize the target, but you certainly can't eliminate soft target for someone who is trying to carry out an attack like this.

I want to head over to the Pentagon.

Our Barbara Starr is there.

And I do want to say, Barbara, we're watching some of these images come in, people who have been injured or who are trying to leave the airport in the aftermath of this attack. What are you learning there at the Pentagon?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Such difficult images to watch.

But across Europe and in the United States, security services are scouring these images tonight, looking for any clues about who may have done this. And there may be some clues. When you look at the video, and there were three bombers and three bombs, is the way it looks to be shaping up -- that suggests a group of people who may have been well-prepared, coordinated this attack, had the equipment, had the explosives to do it. That means they planned. They might have cased the airport prior to

this. They didn't likely just roll up to the curb and detonate their weapons. They knew where they were going. They knew what they were doing.

Who could be behind that type of plot? We're hearing two potentials. Obviously, Turkey bedeviled by these Kurdish separatist groups, but would they really go after such a major international target? Perhaps not. That leaves al Qaeda, but it also leaves ISIS on the table.

One of the pieces of analysis we're hearing tonight is ISIS has been losing territory in Syria and Iraq. It has been losing fighters, its profile certainly taking a dent, if you will, from the U.S.-led coalition. So, is ISIS, perhaps, and we don't know the answer, but is ISIS perhaps lashing out here, putting itself back center stage on the world terrorism front?

No claim of responsibility from them yet tonight, but intelligence services, military services, governments across the world looking at all of this -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr, thanks so much, reporting for us from the Pentagon.

Let's get to Ivan Watson. He is in our international correspondent. He's in Paris. But he has spent years covering Turkey. He has been in and out of this Ataturk Airport hundreds of times, in fact.

And you just heard Barbara's report there, Ivan, that perhaps this is ISIS feeling pinch as its territory is diminished in Syria and Iraq and lashing out, trying to prove that it is relevant and that it obviously can impact really or just to terrorize.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And if it is in fact ISIS -- and it is still very early -- it wouldn't be the first time they have lashed out in Turkey.

Last year, suspected ISIS bombers attacked a peace rally in the capital, Ankara, and killed more than 100 people. That's a massive death toll. And there have been other attacks carried out by ISIS in Istanbul this year alone, two attacks targeting foreign tourists in some of the most frequented tourist destinations in the city, the commercial capital, the cultural capital and largest city in Turkey.

It is important to note, of course, that the Kurdistan Workers Party and groups affiliated with it have also carried out terror attacks in Istanbul. But that previous attack this year targeted a police bus. So it gives you a sense of the different types of targets that these two groups that are officially listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations, these two groups have gone after.

Now, this target in the airport, I have been through this area. This is the arrivals hall. They did not apparently, according to the Turkish government officials, get inside the area where the bombs appear to have gone off. It was just outside the doors. That's where you would have a line of potentially dozens of taxis, dozens of passengers waiting for their rides away from the airport, also relatives coming to greet ones arriving at the airport, so typically a very congested area, just inside the security checkpoints and the X- rays and metal detectors.

You have kiosks, car rental offices, a Starbucks. That's the kind of scene that you would see inside when this terrible attack took place. Again, Turkish government officials saying that it appears that the police were able to intercept the attackers before they were even able to get into the sliding glass doors of the arrivals hall of this very busy international airport -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Ivan, thank you so much.


And I do want to note that we are actually, in all of this chaos, trying to pin down the sources, the locations of these three explosions. We have been hearing from witnesses talking to us on the phone that there was one right outside, approximate to the taxi line.

This would be an area where people may be waiting for loved ones, or dropping them off or people would be being dropped off by taxis as they entered the airport. We're still trying to figure out exactly where those other two attacks happened.

I want to bring in Evan Perez.

Evan, I know that you have been working your sources here in Washington. What are you learning?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, at this hour, we have -- we know that the intelligence services are scouring what they can find, not only from communications of people in that area to see if there is any clues, if there is something that perhaps might have indicated that something was coming.

And certainly at this point, they knew of nothing that was imminent at this airport and certainly not in Turkey. But it bears reminding that this has been an area of top concern for U.S. officials. If you travel to Istanbul, one of the things that happens is, after you travel there, there is a very -- there is a good chance that you will be selected for additional screening.

There has been a lot of concern, not only about Istanbul, but also about Turkey in general. A lot of Western travelers, a lot of Western fighters from either from Western Europe or from the United States who travel to Syria and Iraq to join the extremist groups al-Nusra, ISIS, they have gone through this airport. They have traveled through Turkey. Turkey is their rout into those war zones.

And so that has been one of the reasons why, if you travel there, you often will be -- for the months afterwards, you will be selected for additional screening. Some travelers, you read on the Internet, you will see them complaining about this. They will say I have noticed that there's little markings on my boarding pass. Well, that's the reason why. You were selected for additional

screening. Your baggage is given extra scrutiny, simply because of this tremendous concern about Istanbul and about Turkey as a waypoint for some of these travelers, some of these people who are going to join the extremist groups down there.

KEILAR: All right, Evan, stay with us. We will be back to you in just a moment.

I do want to bring in Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland.

We're very happy to have you with us, sir. You're the ranking member -- ranking senator, Democratic senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

What are you hearing about what we're seeing happening here in Turkey?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, this is certainly a tragic day for Turkey and for the threat of terrorists in all of our communities.

We just had a hearing today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on ISIS and their activities in Iraq and Syria. And the news is that we are taking back a lot of the territory that they control, which is good news, including the border areas around Turkey.

The challenge is that the terrorist groups are participating in international terrorism as an effort to try to get attention. And, here, we don't know the facts of who is taking responsibility, but it shows that we're vulnerable to terrorism, not just in Syria and Iraq, but terrorism in Turkey, terrorism in the United States, as we saw in Orlando.

Some of this is homegrown. Some of this is inspired. Some of this is planned. We are going to need to find out more about what happened in Turkey.

KEILAR: So you don't know at this point who may be responsible for this, obviously?

CARDIN: No. We know that there were three attackers. We know that obviously they were suicide attackers. They have not -- no one has yet claimed the responsibility, as I understand. But, clearly, this was a coordinated effort.

WARD: Senator, if I could just ask you as well, try to help us give our audience a sense of why Turkey would be a target. What are some of the reasons that they -- because, for many of us, we think Turkey is a Muslim country. Why on Earth would an Islamic fundamentalist group bomb a Muslim target, though they have done that many times before? What are some of the reasons?

CARDIN: Turkey has been part of coalition to fight radicalization and extremists.

They have been helpful in dealing with their borders, in stopping foreign fighters from entering Syria and from entering Europe. So they have been helpful in our campaign against terrorism. Look, any country that tries to maintain safety for their people are going to be targeted, because extremists believe that, if you don't agree with them, you're fair game.

KEILAR: So, when you're seeing this sort of shift -- we don't know that it is ISIS. And we need to say that. But there does appear to this profile. And Clarissa has been talking a lot about this, these suicide fighters, someone in these coordinated attacks who -- because we have a report now that one of these attackers had a Kalashnikov rifle and was, we believe, shooting victims.

And then the vest explodes or the explosives on his or her person explodes. Is this just the template that we're seeing now?

CARDIN: Well, we have seen too many of too many of these suicide attacks. We have seen too many of too many of these circumstances in so many parts of the world.


Remember, Turkey has its problems with terrorist groups beyond ISIL. They have had the Kurdish extremists that have -- terrorist groups that have -- did attacks in Turkey. So, we don't know the cause, what group they're affiliated with.

But I think what we're seeing more and more are the type of using machine weapon-type of weapon or using explosive devices to try to create as much damage as possible.

KEILAR: All right. Senator Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, don't go far. We are going to be back with you in just a minute.

Clarissa Ward, thank you so much.

We are back with more coverage of the attack on the international airport in Istanbul in just a moment.



KEILAR: We are following breaking news, at least 28 people killed, 60 injured following three simultaneous explosions at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport in the international terminal.

We want to turn to our experts for some analysis on this. We have CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI Assistant Director Tom Fuentes, former CIA operative and CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Baer. We have CNN contributor and senior editor at The Daily Beast Michael Weiss. And we have Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute joining me and Clarissa Ward, as we delve into this story.

Soner, as you have been watching this unfold, what -- and we do not know who was responsible. There obviously are some ideas that it could be ISIS, but not the only group certainly active in this area. What are your thoughts?


The attack has telltale signs of Islamic State, multiple suicide bombers, people machine-gunning civilians before detonating themselves to create the most number of casualties. And, of course, for a while now, there's thought Turkey has been under Islamic State's radar for a number of reasons, number one, if ISIS is the anomaly of Islam, Turkey is the normal in Islam.

So, the question was not if, but when the Islamic State would attack Turkey, Turkey's heart, and that attack unfortunately came today.

KEILAR: Now, I wonder if -- is there a reason that ISIS, if it is responsible, would not immediately claim responsibility?

CAGAPTAY: Correct.

KEILAR: I think you would expect that, if ISIS is responsible, then there would be some claim of responsibility, to say, look, we're relevant. Look what we can do. Our territory may be shrinking. But we can still cause a hot of damage.

CAGAPTAY: Of course, there have been two other ISIS attacks in Turkey thus far in recent times, and for neither of these attacks the Islamic State claimed responsibility. I think that is part of their strategy.

This is a group that is born out of al Qaeda. Just as al Qaeda in Iraq would not assume responsibility and create this foggy environment,, where, because the group didn't take responsibility, people would start blaming one another. I think ISIS wants to do the same in Turkey by not taking responsibility.

So, even if the Islamic State is behind this attack, it will not claim responsibility for it, though we will find out from the suicide bombers' pedigree that they are Islamic State fighters, they went to Syria, they got radicalized. So all the signs will be there, but the group will not take responsibility.

KEILAR: And, Bob, you were sort of saying to that effect. Now, if whoever did this does not claim responsibility, what would your expectation be about who the Turkish government would blame?

BOB BAER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the Turkish government tends to blame the PKK for all violence.


KEILAR: Kurdish separatists, the PKK.

BAER: Yes, the Workers Party, Kurdish Workers Party.

The Kurdish intelligence and Kurdish police are not particularly forthcoming either with the allies or with the press. But certainly this attack has all the hallmarks of the Islamic State. And if you put in it context with the attacks in Yemen yesterday and Lebanon the week today and Jordan, it looks to me like the jihad has launched a jihad externally, maybe in response to Fallujah.

But they're never going to go public about that. They're just lashing out, as we have been talking about.

KEILAR: Michael, you think it wouldn't be a smart strategy for the Kurdish Workers Party, the Kurdish separatists, even though they have launched attacks in Istanbul, to launch an attack like this, right, Michael?

MICHAEL WEISS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, because the PKK tends to focus on the Turkish Gendarmerie, the Turkish security services, and the Turkish military.

To attack a major international airport runs the risk of killing American citizens and also citizens from other nation states belonging to the anti-ISIS coalition. Now, the main -- the vanguard fighting force on the ground in Syria against ISIS, the one that will take Manbij from ISIS in the coming days or weeks is the YPG militias, which are beholden to the Syrian affiliate of the PKK known as the Democratic Union Party.

I know there is bit of an alphabet soup that comes into play here, but this would be a disastrously suicidal mistake for the PKK to do, to target a soft target, killing scores of civilians here. This has nothing to do with their 40-year on-and-off-again insurgency against the Turkish government.

And, again, as Bob was saying, this has all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack. ISIS has struck inside Turkey. Turkey is the one country it has struck the most. There were about half-a-dozen attacks in 2015 that I counted up either inspired by ISIS or carried out by ISIS.

Interestingly enough, most of those attacks, all but one, were targeting PKK-aligned events in Turkey, going after the Kurds. Why? Revenge for the loss of Kobani, but also designed to create a geopolitical wedge in the coalition, because they knew that the Kurds would rise up in Turkey, not against ISIS, but against the Erdogan government, which has been waging this campaign against the PKK.


And just one final point. In the last few weeks, for the last few days, I should say, it has been rumored -- now, this is not confirmed, but it has rumored that the head of ISIS' Amn al-Kharji -- that's their foreign intelligence branch -- who is a French national going by the name Abu Suleyman al-Faransi, was arrested at the Turkish border by the Turkish government.

He and his family were fleeing from the carnage in Northern Syria, making an escape via the town of Azaz. If that's the case, then it would be in ISIS' interests to strike back at Turkey for kidnapping what is in effect -- or arresting what is in effect the head of their CIA. So there are a lot of motives here for why ISIS would want to do this. KEILAR: No, a number of good points there.

Soner, I know you want to jump in on this.

CAGAPTAY: Absolutely. So, I agree with Michael.

I think that it is unlikely that the Kurdish separatist terrorist group PKK is behind this attack, because although the Turkish government is currently fighting this group in southeastern Turkey, that's 1,000 miles away from Istanbul.

Recently, the PKK attacked Turkish capital Ankara twice and there was a massive backlash against it, number one from Kurds, number two in the international media. The PKK is now trying to kind of clean up its image because PKK-aligned Kurds in Syria are fighting ISIL together with the U.S.

So, the organization realized that its attacks in Ankara backfired, that it created this image that it is a terrorist group. So, it's unlikely that they would carry out an attack like this because it would actually brand them once again as a terrorist group that nobody should work with. So, most likely, I think this is ISIL.

And there is a symbolism here. Not only ISIL is the anomaly which is targeting the normal in Islam. Turkey is a country with a secular constitution. It's a democracy with gender equality. It has good ties with the West, friends with the U.S., member of NATO, accession talks with the European Union.

Just made up with Israel today. It has so much going for it as a country that represents what ought to be the normal in Islam. So, there's a huge amount of symbolism in this, I think, and ISIL is launching a battle.

There are other elements, of course. Turkey-backed rebels have been -- recently been pushing back against ISIL positions in Syria together with the U.S.-backed Kurds. So, maybe this is also tactically the Islamic State trying to retaliate against Turkey.

So it is a combination of symbolism and tactical factors, I think, that has pushed them to carry out today's attack.

KEILAR: And as we are following this with our panel of experts here, I do want to begin some new pictures, new video that we have coming in, if we can start that, as I bring Clarissa Ward in to talk about this. This is going to play out for some time before we see the explosion.

But, Clarissa, tell us about this.

WARD: Right.

What we appear to be seeing here is one of the attackers running through some kind of a departure or arrivals hall. He falls to the ground. You see a gun quite clearly come out of his hands. The person runs away, presumably trying to get away from the attacker. And then you see the attacker lying there for several moments.

He appears to possibly be injured. And then you see the blast there, just extraordinary. The entire room is just concealed by smoke and dust and flames for a moment. Obviously, we don't show the moments after the blast because it is simply too gory for our viewers.

But as you can see, there appears to show one of the attackers lying on the ground. You see that man running away from him. Clearly, that man...


WARD: ... that there may be some kind of a suicide vest or explosive device on the man's person, on the -- and then bam.

KEILAR: That's horrible.

And as you see that suspect there fall -- now, we had heard that some of the security staff there at the airport may have opened fire on some of the attackers. Is that right? It almost appears as if he has been injured. Right?

WARD: I think what is clear is that it was a very chaotic scene. There were reports of multiple shots fired. It is not clear which of those shots were the attackers trying to shoot ordinary people who were just at the airport and which came from airport security personnel who were firing on the attackers.

We have heard, though, several anecdotal reports that we haven't been able to confirm yet that, indeed, security forces in the airport did try to neutralize the attackers. You see the attacker there. He fell to the ground. He appeared to be injured. His gun falls out of his hands.

He waits several moments, and then he blows himself up. And the irony of this is that the purpose of these fighters traditionally, these so- called (INAUDIBLE) -- or they're suicide fighters, rather than suicide bombers -- is that they go into a scene. We saw with it the Paris attackers in the Bataclan theater.

They're heavily armed. They try to kill as many people as they can before they blow themselves up. But as we see, when this man blew himself up, he was clearly alone in that hall, no one around him. So one can only hope that lives were saved by the fact that he wasn't able to detonate his explosives in a more crowded area.

KEILAR: And -- exactly. And you see some of these people who so narrowly escaped.

Tom, I want to bring you in, as you look at that new video that we have coming in. What are your thoughts?

TOM FUENTES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, my thoughts are, first of all, I agree with everyone that has spoken that this attack has all the hallmarks of ISIS, except it seems to me that ISIS -- I can understand attacking in Ankara and all other parts of Turkey, but why attack in the airport when they need that airport as a transit point for their fighters coming and going from Europe and other points. So it seems to me that that would be a pretty stupid move on their part, to do something that's going to cause security to be greater in the future at that airport.

[18:30:33] And one other point. You know, the fact that the U.S. has put a ground stop on all flights. My question to that is, what about the hundreds of Americans that are now stranded in that airport? What are they going to do with them? Where are they going to put them where they're going to be safe overnight or, you know, until tomorrow? So that's another question that I have about the passengers stranded by those flights being stopped.

KEILAR: Sure. And it may be a question authorities here in Washington are dealing with. We'll be looking into that, as well, Tom.

Now, the FBI is monitoring the situation there on the ground in Turkey. Evan Perez, talk to us about this. What are you learning.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: From the Justice Department, the attorney general has been briefed on what the U.S. knows at this moment on this. And he -- she's directed the FBI and other agencies under her, under the Justice Department to assist the Turks in whatever they need in this investigation.

And you know, there's a bit of a complicated relationship between the U.S. law enforcement and security services and the Turks. I mean, they depend on each other a lot. They work together a lot. But there's also some times where the relationship is a bit strained.

After the Benghazi attacks, it's interesting to note the witnesses from the Benghazi attack were taken -- taken by the FBI to Istanbul to be interviewed, because it was not safe to do that in Libya.

So it's interesting to see that Turkey and Istanbul is one place where the FBI does a lot of work. At the same time, you hear from the FBI officials that sometimes they don't have the cooperation of the -- of the Turkish authorities. It's a very complicated relationship, as many of those relationships are in the region, Brianna.

KEILAR: And Evan, stand by for us. We will have more with our panel of experts. We also have some stunning new video of one of these three suicide bombings happening at the international airport there in Istanbul. We'll show that to you after a quick break.


[18:37:11] KEILAR: We're following breaking news. A senior Turkish official says 28 people have died, 60 others are injured after three suicide bombers attacked the Istanbul airport, the Ataturk Airport. This is the international airport there in Istanbul.

I want to bring back in some of our panel members that we have: Clarissa Ward, as well as Soner Cagaptay. Soner, you were making a point about really the big picture here.

What does this mean for Turkey? What does this mean for Syria? What does this mean for the fight against ISIS, as we still don't who know is responsible for this attack?

SONER Cagaptay: For a while now, I think Turkey and the Islamic State were engaged in what I would call limited warfare, meaning Turkey fought ISIL but really prioritized other issues in Syria, such as ousting the Assad regime and also limiting the advances of the Kurds. And ISIL, Islamic State was only No. 3 among Turkish priorities in Syria.

And similarly, the Islamic State, though it targeted Turkey in a number of bombings, those attacks were in Istanbul's old city, and they targeted tourists and foreigners, so never really the heart of Turkey. So this suggests an escalation by the Islamic State to a full war against Turkey, and I think Turkey will retaliate with full war.

I would expect that Turkey's vengeance will come down like rain from hell on the Islamic State inside Syria, as well as the group's infrastructure through Turkey. And I think that, for Turkey now, Islamic -- fighting the Islamic State, the so-called Islamic State, is going to be priority No. 1. Going ahead of Assad and the Kurds in Syria.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And we should say that the Islamic State has not yet claimed responsibility. But historically with their attacks in Turkey, they haven't. Unlike their attacks in the west, which they can't wait to claim responsibility for, with their attacks in Turkey, they haven't immediately or ever, in fact, claimed responsibility.

And that's part of a tactic to just increase the chaos, increase the sort of unknown uncertainty. It is worth mentioning, as well, Brianna, it is the last ten days of Ramadan. This is the holiest part of the holiest month of the year. We've heard ISIS spokesman Adnani come out just a few weeks ago and say it's Ramadan. It's time to up our game. You need to go and attack wherever you can. So it's always possible that, even if it wasn't specifically an ISIS-coordinated event, that it could be an ISIS-inspired.

KEILAR: It would be in line...

CHAGAPDAY: With Islamic State attacks, for instance, they did not assume responsibility. I think when they carry out attacks in Muslim majority countries, they intentionally avoid assuming responsibility, because they want to polarize those societies along whatever political fault lines they have. If ISIS is not behind an attack because it does not take responsibility, then people start blaming the government; the government blames the opposition.

KEILAR: Things unravel.

CHAGAPDAY: This is exactly how Iraq descended into civil war as a result of al Qaeda suicide bombings from 2005-07. Al Qaeda assumed responsibility for none of those attacks, and ISIS is born out of al Qaeda. They're trying to do something similar.

KEILAR: And then you saw sectarian -- then you saw sectarian violence that followed.

CHAGAPDAY: The divide. Absolutely.

[18:40:10] KEILAR: I do want to -- we have some new video that I would like to play for our viewers. It's really stunning images that you see of one of the attackers.

This is obviously an area that appears to be inside, we should say.

WARD: Inside the terminal. Exactly.

KEILAR: That right there is the suspect, who is running, falls. It appears a weapon goes by the wayside there, away from him. And that he's trying to detonate his explosive at this point. And then he does.

WARD: And you see that man running away. That image...

KEILAR: Barely. In the nick of time.

WARD: Seeing that this attacker appeared to be poising, or preparing himself to detonate. And it does look, as well -- it's very difficult to say -- it does look like he may actually be wounded, that attacker. That, of course, raising the question of was there some kind of a shoot-out beforehand between security forces at the airport and the attackers inside the airport?

But certainly, it is clear from everything we're learning here, three explosions, three bombings, three attackers. This was a coordinated attack. This would have required quite a good deal of planning to carry this out.

KEILAR: And you grew up in Istanbul.

CHAGAPDAY: I was born and raised, and I wonder if this will point at Turkey's own domestic foreign fighter problem. Two previous attacks carried out by Islamic State were by Turks who had gone into Syria and radicalized there. They could find out in the next few days that these were carried out, unfortunately, by Turkish citizens who went to Syria and fought there. Turkey will be, together with us and France and Belgium, as a country that has its own foreign fighter problem.

And so this really, I think, raises the Islamic State threat in Turkey up to a level that we haven't seen before. And Turks typically react to terror attacks with full vengeance. So I think we're going to see Turkey strongly come on board with the U.S., cooperate better and with western intelligence agencies, now that the Islamic State threat is, of course, threat No. 1.

KEILAR: All right. Soner, Clarissa, stay with me. We will be back with more on our breaking news. These coordinated series of suicide bombings at the international airport in Istanbul. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:46:54] KEILAR: Breaking news: a senior Turkish official says 28 people were killed, 60 others were wounded after three suicide bombers attacked the Istanbul airport. The Federal Aviation Administration has halted U.S. flights headed to or from Istanbul, and this is an attack that is the latest targeting aviation. This follows the bloody bombings at the Brussels airport. You will recall that.

I want to bring in now, CNN aviation correspondent Rene Marsh.

Rene, what are you hearing?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the FAA acting to shut down all U.S. nights to and from Istanbul. That's a direct response to the three explosions that happened at the airport there. And, of course, the agency is saying they're doing this to ensure safety of passengers.

Of course, keep in mind this is Turkey's busiest airport. We're talking about last year alone, more than 41 million passengers, international passengers passing through this airport and more than 19 million domestic passengers. Many of the flights flying in and out of this particular airport have direct flights to several cities here in the United States. And because of that, their security has to pass the standard of the Department of Homeland Security. They essentially oversee security at airports with what is called last point of departure, direct connections to the United States.

But keep in mind, that is only at the security checkpoints. That does not include the perimeter where it looks like all this activity occurred, outside the security check point and that, Brianna, is the challenge here. Those soft targets of the airport just remain vulnerable.

I can tell you this airline, Turkish Airlines, that is their hub. This airport is their hub. And this airport itself, they both experience a lot of growth in the last few years and one would have to expect that this sort of situation will certainly have an impact on that growth -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, we're seeing that right outside that secure area, outside the terminal. And we're seeing video now of an attack inside. The question there, how did that attacker get inside the airport to that area? We'll be following up to figure that out as well.

Now, the U.S. is closely monitoring the situation. President Obama has been briefed by his top aides.

And I want to turn now to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott.

Elise, what are you hearing?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, President Obama was briefed by his top adviser on terrorism,

Lisa Monaco. Meanwhile, the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Brianna, has been trying to account for all of its personnel. They say their personnel have all been accounted for. But now, the job is to try and make sure that no U.S. casualties or any injured or at the airport, they've sent a team of consular affairs officers to the airport to try and assist U.S. citizens, warning all Americans -- if you don't need to be at the airport, stay away from the airport, Brianna.

Just days ago, there was a travel warning updated for Turkey.

[18:50:01] U.S. really concerned, urging U.S. citizens not to travel, particularly to southeast Turkey, on the border with Syria. But this airport certainly has been an area of concern. There has been concern about a potential terrorist attack not necessarily because there was any specific information about any attacks being planned, but because this, as we've been discussing, such a strategic location.

So, tonight, the U.S. is trying to locate American citizens but also warning Americans in Turkey to be aware of their surroundings. Avoid areas where there are large crowds or tourist sites and stay away from that airport in Istanbul, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Elise, thank you so much.

And, Clarissa, that is exactly what the terrorists want in a way, to disrupt tourism, to disrupt daily life in Istanbul.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. And, you know, we've said it before, but it's worth saying it again. This is one of the most vibrant, crowded, international melting pot airports in the world. It is a bridge between the East and the West, and it is precisely because of that symbolism that it has been targeted.

Groups like ISIS -- and, again, we don't know if it was ISIS -- they want to hit Turkish tourism. They want to hit the Turkish economy. They want to isolate Turkey because they hate the fact that Turkey is a Muslim country but one that is open to the West, that has great diplomatic relationships across the world. And so, this is a devastating attack not just on a physical level and the tremendous loss of life, but on a symbolic level, too.

KEILAR: This has already been a very difficult year for Turkey in terms of tourism, which is so important to the Turkish economy.

SONER CAGAPTAY, TURKISH RESEARCH PROGRAM, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: Turkey's tourism was already suffering. Tourism is the second largest sector of the economy after industry, brings over $30 billion a year. It's a major part of the economy.

So, I think this will kill Turkey's tourism, unfortunately, and it is exactly what ISIL wants. The attack at the airport is very symbolic. This is arguably the most symbolic part of Istanbul after the city center, Taksim Square, it's also the hub of the country's airlines, Turkish Airlines, which is the country's only internationally known company. It's the main entry point for tourists into Turkey.

It's also Turkey's standing. This will debilitate, I think, unfortunately, Turkey's standing as a safe place to do business and to visit.

This is exactly what the horrible guys in the Islamic State wants because Turkey is the antidote of what the Islamic State represents. It represents open, equal, diverse understanding of Islam that's at peace with the West. It's a country that's democratic, secular, where men and women are equal. A country that's a friend of the United States and the West, and ISIL wants to destroy all of that and that's why they're going to hit the heart of Istanbul and the heart of Istanbul is the Ataturk Airport:

KEILAR: I want to bring in Pamela Brown now.

I know that you've been talking to sources ands obviously, when something like this happens especially in such close aftermath to the ISIS -inspired attack in Orlando that killed 49 people, folks question, what is the threat to the U.S.? What are you hearing?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Of course, that is a big concern and counterterrorism officials in the U.S. are paying close to what's going on in Turkey and people I've spoken to say at this point the way they look at it is this has the hallmarks of ISIS. They went after a soft target here, the explosive vests. You know, this is very similar to what we saw happen at the Belgium airport.

Now, in terms of our risk and our vulnerability here in the U.S., the thinking is we are not as at risk as Turkey and other countries in Europe, because we're not as close, frankly, to Syria, as those countries are. But there's really nothing you can do to make airport security foolproof in the outside perimeter, you know?

As you're pulling up to the airport, as you're going inside to the counter -- I mean, those are the places that officials worry about the most and as they see this play out in Turkey and as they saw it play out a couple of months ago in Belgium, this raises the concern.

KEILAR: And the question is how did one of these attackers get inside? We'll ask that question after a quick break. We'll be right back.


[18:58:21] KEILAR: Our breaking news: A senior Turkish official says 28 people killed, 60 others have been wounded after three suicide bombers attacked the Istanbul airport simultaneously.

I want to bring in Brian Todd now. He is looking at the layout of this airport.

Give us a sense of where this happened, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, we've been airing this dramatic video of the one attacker seemingly detonating himself inside the airport. So, now, we're getting new information that at least one of these bombs likely went off inside the terminal area of the international departures area. This is the aftermath of one of those blasts seemingly inside the departure area and we -- our reconstruction of where this likely occurred and where that man was when he was on the floor and sit in, detonated himself, we believe it was in this general area.

This is what it looks like normally. Now, where exactly the angle was, we believe it might have been over here somewhere. Here is another angle what you can see what it looks like normally, in that corridor where that man detonated himself, again, when we talked about the security measures there at the Ataturk airport.

This is also near the area near that man from our reconstruction of this detonated himself. This is a security checkpoint. We have heard an eyewitness say that he heard explosions and gun fire both upstairs and downstairs. If it was upstairs, it was likely in the departures area, this is the international terminal, departure area upstairs. And if it was downstairs, it is likely in the arrivals area.

One or more of the explosions could have occurred outside. If it did, it probably occurred here or possibly here, Brianna. But again, that information is very fluid tonight, we're going to be finding out more in the hours ahead.

KEILAR: All right. Brian Todd, thanks so much for explaining that to us.

And that is it for me. I'm Brianna Keilar, and we certainly appreciate you watching us tonight during our breaking coverage.

It continues as "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.