World


Hunt on for nightclub attacker, IS linked




Posted on January 03, 2017


ISTANBUL -- Turkey was on Monday hunting the gunman who opened fire inside a glamorous Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s night killing 39 people, as investigators reportedly probed his possible ties to Islamic State group.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State group on Monday claimed responsibility for the attack on New Year’s Eve.

In a statement circulated on social media, the jihadist group said one of the “soldiers of the caliphate” had carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub.

With the majority of those killed in Sunday’s attack foreigners, families were due to reclaim the bodies of over two dozen non-Turkish nationals killed in the gun attack.

The attack, which unleashed scenes of carnage and panic among partygoers at one of Istanbul’s swankiest venues, took place just 75 minutes into 2017 after a bloody year in which hundreds were killed in violence blamed on both jihadists and Kurdish militants.

Arriving by taxi at the plush Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus, the gunman produced a weapon, reportedly a Kalashnikov, and shot dead a policeman and civilian at the entrance.

According to the Hurriyet daily, the gunman then fired four magazines containing a total of 120 bullets around the club, as terrified guests flung themselves into the freezing waters of the Bosphorus in panic.

But after changing clothes, the gunman left the nightclub and has managed to evade the security forces.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday that intense efforts were under way to find the gunman, and expressed hope that the suspect would be captured soon.

Late on Sunday, police rushed to the city’s Kurucesme district after a tip-off but the operation did not produce any arrest.

“The danger continues,” wrote columnist Abdulkadir Selvi in Hurriyet. “So long as this terrorist is not seized we do not know when and where a massacre could take place.”

Hurriyet said the authorities believe the attacker could be linked to IS jihadists and may be from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.

Investigators also consider it possible that the attacker is linked to the same cell that in June carried out a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport blamed on IS that left 47 dead, it added.

Turkey also received intelligence from the United States on Dec. 30 warning of the risk of attacks by IS in Istanbul and Ankara on New Year’s night.

However the intelligence did not specify where such an attack could take place, the article added.

So far, officials have not said who they believe is responsible for the latest carnage.

The attack comes as Turkish troops press a four-month incursion in Syria to oust IS jihadists and Kurdish militants from the border area.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said the nightclub bloodbath sought to sow “chaos,” was on Monday due to chair a meeting of the Turkish cabinet at his presidential palace in Ankara.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim meanwhile denied earlier reports the attacker had worn a Santa Claus costume.

Soylu said the gunman had arrived with a gun concealed under an overcoat but subsequently exited the venue wearing a different garment.

‘KALASHNIKOV FIRE’
NTV television said that the bodies of 25 foreigners killed in the attack were to be handed back to their families on Monday following identification.

According to Turkish press reports, the latest figures show 11 Turks were killed in the attack alongside 27 foreigners, including one Belgian-Turkish dual national. One victim is still unidentified.

Sixty-five people were wounded in the attack.

The foreigners who died -- most of them from Arab countries -- had come to the club to celebrate a special night in style.

They included three Lebanese nationals, two Jordanians and three Iraqis, officials in the respective countries said.

A Canadian woman and a teenage Arab Israeli woman were also among dead. Turkish press reports said at least seven Saudi nationals died but this has yet to be confirmed by Riyadh.

Speaking to Lebanese TV station LBCI, Albert Farhat recalled how the attack began.

“Around 1:15 am, we heard Kalashnikov fire. We thought it might be people who had drunk too much and were fighting but then people started throwing themselves to the ground,” he said.

The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when IS jihadists unleashed a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall.

World leaders rushed to condemn the nightclub shooting, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying it was “hard to imagine a crime more cynical than the killing of civilians during a New Year’s celebration.” -- AFP