Istanbul Airport Terrorist Attack

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe

Written by: Greg Ellifritz


Daily Mail summary of the incident

Daily Mail summary of the incident


Last week, three ISIS terrorists conducted  simultaneous attacks on the unsecured areas of Istanbul’s international airport.  They entered the airport armed with AK rifles and suicide bomb vests.  They split up, went to separate areas of the airport and began shooting and blowing up their bombs.  A total of 42 people were killed and 238 more were injured.


Why should we care?  We should care because the same terrorists have stated that they will perform similar attacks in the United States.  We can study the tactics used in their overseas attacks and develop countermeasures before they bring them stateside.  Here is a discussion of the key elements of the attack and what we all need to do in order to avoid being killed if a similar event happens here.


-Guns and Bombs- All of the terrorist attacks with the largest number of fatalities involve both guns (usually long guns) and explosives.  To prepare for an active shooter requires that you also be prepared to deal with a terrorist bomber.  The two groups use both methodologies simultaneously.

DM GRAB - Ataturk Airport International Terminal terrorists images appeared on the departures floor. Images of the Russian national airline Aeroflot experienced moments of horror in front of the bank where the check-in office and this was reflected in the cameras. (Haberturk News Centre)

One of the terrorists who initiated the attack with rifle fire.


Most shooters don’t know enough about bombs.  You must understand how terrorist bombs are detonated, how they are used, and how far away you must get to be safe.  Take a bomb class.  Until then read this article.  Then understand about secondary devices.  This type of information can truly save your life.


– Three Pronged Attack.  A hallmark of Al Qaeda (and now ISIS) attacks is the three pronged attack.  They are continuing the trend here with three attackers at the airport.  They use multiple attackers to ensure that at least one makes it to the target if the others are interdicted by the police before arriving on site.  It’s basically a back-up plan.  In this case, the three attempted to enter the airport.  They were stopped by police at the entrance of the building (this airport has additional metal detectors at the airport entrance).  When they realized they couldn’t make it through security with their guns and bombs, one terrorist pulled out a gun and began shooting at police.  That provided enough of a distraction to allow the other two terrorists to slip inside unnoticed.


The key thing to remember is if you witness one terrorist attack, you should assume that more are coming.  There will always be a followup attack.  Don’t hang around.  Get yourself to safety.  The followups may not be in the same location like these were.  Police need to be aware of the three pronged strategy.  If one attack occurs, the police should be deploying additional resources to protect other pre-identified targets for attack.



– Heavy clothing and large bags remain the best indicators of a potential bomber.  Take a look at the photo below from this article.  All three terrorists are wearing heavy coats that were wholly inappropriate for the June Mediterranean weather.


Note the terrorists' heavy coats, hiding bomb vests

Note the terrorists’ heavy coats, hiding bomb vests

The heavy coats are what attracted the initial police attention.  The cops thought these guys were thieves or robbers based on their dress.  Pay attention to people wearing clothing inappropriate for the weather conditions and people who are carrying large bags.


– If you plan on shooting a suicide bomber, you must realize that it is likely a suicide mission.  One of the bombers is running through the airport with a rifle in hand.  He is shot from ambush by a courageous police officer.  The terrorist falls to the ground and his rifle goes skidding across the floor.  The cop approaches, noticed that the man is wearing a bomb vest and runs away.  The man detonates.  The cop was killed in the explosion.  Watch the video of the incident below:


It’s likely here that the cop didn’t know the terrorist was armed with a bomb until after he shot.  The correct course of action after seeing the bomber trying to detonate is to fire multiple headshots.  The problem is that even if you immediately incapacitate the terrorist with headshots, there’s no guarantee that you will be safe.  The bomb could be on a timer.  The bomb could be remotely controlled by a handler.  You just don’t know.  That’s what I mean.  Taking the shot may save the day.  It may also get you killed.


For a hand carried or worn bomb vest, one must be between 200 and 400 meters away from the blast to be safe from the shrapnel.  None of us are going to make a pistol shot through a crowded airport at 200 meters.  If you are close enough to take the shot, you are within range of being killed by the bomb.


Luckily, this cop’s shots to center mass didn’t detonate the explosive vest.  That wasn’t the case in Paris, where one of the cops hit a bomb vest and blew up the bomber.  The unstable homemade explosives in the bomb vest may detonate when hit by a bullet.  That means headshots should be the rule.  How far away can you reliably make a headshot under stress?  Most of you won’t be able to do it beyond 50 feet.  Some of you may have to be much closer.


The bad news is that in all suicide bombing attacks studied, victims within five meters of the bomb suffered 100% fatalities.  At the 15 meter range (around 50 feet), the victims were slightly more likely to live than die after the blast.  Anyone inside of 50 feet is more likely to die than live.  How far away can you guarantee a headshot again?  If you are close enough to make the shot, you will have at best a 50% chance of survival if the bomb blows.


These are sobering statistics, but they are critical to understand.  If you choose to play the hero and engage the bomber like this heroic cop, you will likely suffer his same fate.


– The terrorists may be hiding their weapons during the attack.  This article describes how one of the bombers was concealing his handgun after firing several shots.

“He turned around and started coming towards us. He was holding his gun inside his jacket. He looked around anxiously to see if anyone was going to stop him and then went down the escalator. We heard some more gunfire and then another explosion, and then it was over.'”


Note this picture from The Daily Mail of another killer with a long gun.  See how he is attempting to conceal the weapon?


Terrorist hiding long gun

Terrorist hiding long gun


Adaptation on the part of the killers and the defenders is constantly occurring.  Both groups are learning from the mistakes made in past attacks.  In past active killer events, the killers brazenly walked their killing fields with guns exposed, targeting anyone they could find.  Now we are seeing killers exercising more caution.  As cops and armed citizens are training to hunt and kill the attackers, the attackers know that if they are obvious about carrying a gun, they will likely be killed before getting the body count they desire.


When you are either fleeing the scene of an active killing or hunting the killer, watch people’s hands.  The killer might not be running around with a shouldered long gun as he does his killing.


– Unsecured areas of airports are very vulnerable.  There have been numerous attacks to the unsecured areas of airports all around the world.  Get inside and through security as quickly as possible.  Although airport security is a joke, you are still far more likely to get killed in the unsecured area than past the body screening machines.


Don’t dawdle in the unsecured area.  Avoid checking baggage if possible.  Print your boarding passes at home.  Fly first or business class whenever possible so that lines at the ticket desk are shorter.  Get TSA Pre-check or Global Entry to speed your way through security lines.  Anything you do to speed up the time you spend in the unsecured area of the airport will improve your chances of survival.  One study showed that for every 15 minute time period that you avoided the security line, your chance of surviving a terrorist bombing was improved by 50%.  Again, anything you do to make it through security faster will improve your odds of survival.


– You must be an active participant in your own rescue.  That’s a saying from my friend Dave Spaulding and it fits this situation perfectly.  Look at this video.  Watch the response of the victims here immediately following the blast.  They are sitting down on the floor, immobile and cowering in fear with no idea what to do.  They are sitting ducks if the attack had additional components or in the event another bomber/shooter returned to the area.


Get out!  Don’t wait for an inept police force to save you.  Find the closest door and use it.


As more information comes out about this attack, I will update my articles.  Until then, heed this advice and stay dangerous.




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