Fri, May 26, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Officials begin to assess losses at Istanbul airport


Police increased security at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport yesterday as authorities and companies began to assess the huge damage caused by a raging fire and tried to determine what caused it.

A hardline Kurdish militant group had claimed responsibility for the fire, which burned much of the cargo section to the ground.

Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas said the airport was a secure area and such claims were unlikely to be true.

Cargo and logistics companies sent messages to their customers yesterday saying that cargo terminals were completely destroyed and unusable, and officials worked on contingency plans for air freight, including taking on cargo at the city’s other airport on the Asian side of the city, and in the town of Corlu, about 90km to the west.

Water-bombing planes made more than 140 sorties over the smoldering wreck, and firefighters battled Wednesday’s blaze for five hours. They had been unable to assess damages on Wednesday because the area remained too hot to enter, and a team of firefighters worked through the night to cool it.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organization, a hardline group with ties to the main Kurdish guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, said it started the blaze, according to a post on its Web site.

The group said the attack was revenge for Turkey’s policies against the Kurds and threatened “to those who will not leave our people to an honorable life: when you insist on your policies we will turn your life into hell.”

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons have claimed eight bombings in Istanbul this year, and recently said tourism and economic targets were among their group’s priorities. Previous bombings left two dead and 47 injured.

Thick, black smoke from the airport blaze could be seen from 10km away and forced the closure of one of the airport’s runways, causing flight delays. Three people suffered smoke inhalation, but no one was killed, authorities said.

The fire destroyed cargo including textile products and gold shipments, officials said. They said they would need more time to estimate the damage, but that it would total millions of dollars.

The cargo operation of Turkish Airlines, which was in a separate section of the airport, was unaffected by the blaze. Most other airlines and carriers would be affected. Turkish Airlines planes could be seen landing even as the fire raged.

Workers said the entire structure, some 150,000 square meters was in flames within five minutes. Some 2,000 workers fled in panic.

Kurdish guerrillas have been fighting for autonomy in Turkey since 1984, in a fight that has left more than 37,000 dead. The militant group appears to be a radical offshoot of the PKK, which does most of its fighting in the country’s Kurdish-majority southeast.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons have vowed to bring the fight to Turkey’s cities.

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