ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Walking through Istanbul airport to their planes hours after suicide bombers killed 41 people with gunfire and explosives, travellers could almost trace the steps of the attackers from the bullet holes and twisted metal still in full view.
Workers replaced ceiling panels, cleanup crews swept up debris, and water trucks washed pavements outside, but blood stains and shattered windows were still visible as the departure halls filled again and armed police roamed in kevlar vests.
Turkish Airlines resumed services in and out of Europe’s third-busiest airport within 12 hours of Tuesday night’s attacks, although many flights were rescheduled and it offered refunds to passengers booked via Istanbul for the next five days if they no longer wanted to travel.
It was a contrast to the aftermath of suicide bombings at Brussels Airport which killed 16 people in March. There it took 12 days to reopen the airport, much more heavily damaged, to a thin stream of passenger flights.
“That Istanbul airport is operating today is a testament to the resilience and determination of the Turkish people and the aviation industry,” Tony Tyler, head of the International Air Transport Association, said in a statement.
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest of five bombings in Turkey’s biggest city this year, two of them blamed on Islamic State and striking tourist districts. The other three were claimed by Kurdish militants who have stepped up a three-decade insurgency in recent months.
Murat, a tour operator who hung a Turkish flag outside his shop inside the arrivals hall, said Turks’ ability to put terrible events behind them was a virtue and borne of necessity after decades of fighting extremism.
“Turks are a bit fatalistic, we believe our fate is written on our foreheads,” he said. “We know that we can die here or when we cross the street. The best thing we can do is clean up the mess, put things back in order, and get on with our lives.”
But where some saw defiance in the swift reopening of Ataturk airport, others regretted that such attacks had become all too familiar not only in Turkey but the world at large.
“The strangest thing is how quickly we put it behind us. We sweep up the mess and return to normal,” said Adnan, a store worker in the airport who said he knew some of the security guards killed on Tuesday.
“That’s how Turkey manages and moves on, we try to forget,” he said, describing a rapid cleanup early on Wednesday morning in which the ceiling outside his shop was replaced.
Brussels airport had to set up a marquee for check-in facilities after the blasts gutted parts of the building, while negotiations between the Belgian police and government over whether to check passengers before they entered the terminal also delayed the restart.
After parts of the departure hall in Brussels were reopened in May, additional checks at the entrance led to huge queues, which airport authorities said posed a new security risk.
At Istanbul airport, passengers could walk up to the site of the blasts, cordoned off in some places only with yellow crime scene tape. One social media user posted a picture of himself holding what he said were pieces of shrapnel.
Security at Ataturk is generally tighter than in many western European airports. Passengers have to pass through X-ray machines before entering the building or approaching check-in desks, while armed police carry out cursory checks on vehicles at a checkpoint on the main approach road.
But beyond the police teams patrolling inside the building on Wednesday, there was little sign of additional security around the terminal entrances near where at least one of the attackers is thought to have struck.
“I feel shock. I do not want to be here. Istanbul is not safe. I want to leave,” said Diana Eltner, 29, a Swiss psychologist and transit passenger who spent the night at a hotel. She had been afraid, she said, to return to the airport.
Insecurity has already taken a heavy toll on Turkish tourism, with the number of foreign visitors falling by more than third in May, the biggest drop in at least 22 years.
Shares in Turkish Airlines were down around 1.5 percent on Wednesday on fears that the transit passenger market, which has hedged it to some degree against the fall in visitor arrivals, might also be hit by the bombing of its main hub.
Not all travellers were deterred.
Paul Roos, 77, a South African tourist who has frequently visited Turkey with his wife, said they would back, despite having at one point been standing about 50 metres (yards) from one of the gunmen on Tuesday.
“We love Turkey too much not to come back,” he said, sitting on the kerbside outside the airport gates. “We booked for September, we will be back.”
Additional reporting by Victoria Bryan in Brussels, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by David Stamp