Kurdish militant group claims huge fire at Istanbul airport

A hardline Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for a major fire at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport on Wednesday, a pro-Kurdish news agency reported on its Web site.

Government officials refused to comment on the claim, which could not be independently verified. Officials had earlier ruled out sabotage as a cause of the fire.

But a police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said an investigation to determine the cause of the fire was still underway.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons Organization, a hardline group linked to the main Kurdish guerrilla group, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, said it started the blaze, which destroyed much of the cargo terminal at the airport, according to the Netherlands-based Firat News Agency's Web site.

Firat, which often receives information from Kurdish rebel leaders, said it received the claim by e-mail.

The hardline group has claimed eight bombings in Istanbul this year and recently said tourism and economic targets were among the group's priorities. Previous bombings left two dead and 47 injured.

The huge fire quickly engulfed the cargo section of Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport Wednesday, destroying most of the building and forcing about 2,000 workers to flee, authorities said.

Thick, black smoke from the blaze could be seen from 10 kilometers (6 miles) 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 (euros), reports AP.

O.Ch.