ISTANBUL: Turkish police are hunting a gunman who entered a crowded nightclub in Istanbul and opened fire, killing at least 39 people and wounding 69 others. The gunman shot his way into the Reina nightclub around 1:15 a.m., just over an hour into the new year, killing a police officer and a civilian as he entered before opening fire at random inside. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the attack, saying Turkey will relentlessly continue fighting such violence. “I vehemently condemn the terror attack in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighbourhood in the first hours of 2017,” he said in a written statement Sunday. Offering his condolences for those who lost their lives, including “foreign guests,” Erdogan says “Turkey continues its combat against terror and is absolutely determined to do whatever is necessary in the region to ensure its citizens safety and peace.”
Mehmet Dag, 22, was passing by the club and saw the suspect, armed with a long-barrelled weapon, shoot at a police officer and a bystander. “I was in shock at the scene,” he said. Dag said the suspect then targeted security, gunning them down and entering the club. “Once he went in, we don’t know what happened. There were gun sounds and after two minutes, the sound of an explosion.” IPhone footage filmed by Dag and obtained by The Associated Press shows a police officer lying on the ground outside the club, and then a woman. Dag tells the woman, who is lying on the floor face down in a pool of blood, “my sister, you will get better.” He calls for an ambulance. Footage shows ambulances and the lights of an Istanbul bridge when the sound of gunfire rings out inside the club. Initial media reports suggested the attacker may have been wearing a Santa Claus costume, but surveillance camera footage later showed the suspect in a black coat outside the club.
Several foreigners among the dead
Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister said authorities have identified 20 of the victims, five of them Turkish and 15 of foreign origin. An Israeli woman has been identified as one of the 39 victims. Israel’s foreign ministry confirms that 18-year-old Leanne Nasser from the Israeli-Arab town of Tira was killed. Media reports in Turkey say some of the other foreign victims were from Saudia Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and Libya. Soylu said according to security officials, the assailant was alone and wore a jacket. “There is information that he tried to leave with a different set of clothes.” At the time of the shooting, about 600 people were inside the club, located near a bridge that crosses the Bosphorus River. The venue was popular with wealthy locals and tourists and usually featured heavy security, CBC’s Nil Koksal said, reporting from Istanbul. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Turkey’s president a telegram of condolences. “It is hard to imagine a more cynical crime than killing innocent people during New Year celebrations,” Putin said in the message, the Kremlin said Sunday.
“However, terrorists don’t share moral values. Our common duty is to combat terrorists’ aggression,” Putin said. The White House described the shooting as “savagery” and said U.S. intelligence services would help Turkish authorities investigate what happened. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation developed. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii this week with his family. White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the attack on “innocent revellers” celebrating New Year’s shows the attackers’ savagery. He said the U.S. was sending thoughts and prayers to the relatives of those killed.