Manhunt on for killer who gunned down 39 in Istanbul club massacre
A manhunt is on in Turkey for an assailant who unleashed a salvo of bullets in front of and inside a crowded Istanbul nightclub during new year celebrations, killing at least 39 people before fleeing.
Foreigners were among the fatalities, including an 18-year-old Israeli woman, three Indian citizens, a 26-year-old man from Lebanon and a Belgian national, according to the countries' respective foreign ministries and a relative.
Close to 70 others were injured in what authorities described as a terror attack. Three of the wounded were in critical condition, Turkey's prime minister said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned "the terror attack in Istanbul's Ortakoy neighbourhood in the first hours of 2017" and offered condolences for those who lost their lives, including "foreign guests".
The attacker, armed with a long-barrelled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the popular Reina club at around 1.15am before entering and firing on people partying inside, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said.
"Unfortunately, [he] rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate new year's and have fun."
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack and authorities did not name any suspects. The bloodiest attacks that Turkey endured in 2016 were the work of the Islamic State (IS) group or Kurdish militants.
Turkey is a member of Nato and a partner in the US-led coalition against IS. The country is also facing renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, and in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the gunman remains at large. Soylu, describing the attack as a "massacre, a truly inhumane savagery", said three or four of the Turkish victims may have been nightclub employees.
"Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing, he will be caught in a short period of time," Soylu said.
Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the upscale nightclub, on the shores of the Bosphorus, on the European side of the city, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.
However, security camera footage obtained from Haberturk newspaper shows the male assailant dressed in black and carrying a backpack as he shot down a police officer outside the club.
Footage taken by a different camera shows him inside the venue wearing different clothes and a Santa Claus hat.
Turkey's prime minister, however, denied the gunman wore such an outfit. "There is no truth to this. He is an armed terrorist as we know it," Binali Yildirim said.
Yildirim added the attacker left a gun inside the venue and escaped by "taking advantage of the chaos" that ensued.
Some customers reportedly jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus to escape the attack.
Mehmet Dag (22) was passing by the club and saw the suspect shoot at a police officer and a bystander. He said the suspect then targeted security guards, 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," Dag said.
Turkish media said the victims include a 22-year-old police officer and a 47-year-old travel agent, both of whom were shot outside the club. The nightclub area remained sealed off yesterday afternoon.
Armed yesterday police blocked the street in front of the club, where the entrance was covered with blue plastic sheeting. Police patrolled the Asian side of the Bosphorus on the other side of the club.
Crime scene investigators were seen inside the club searching through piles of chairs, tables and pieces of clothing left behind during the panic among the guests.
There were emotional scenes in front of a city morgue, where those shot dead were brought for identification. Some relatives cried out and fell to the ground as they apparently learned the fate of their loved ones. Turkey's Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya said citizens of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and Libya were among those hurt in the attack.
The US Consulate General in Istanbul warned American citizens to keep their movements in the city "to an absolute minimum."
A statement reminded US citizens that extremists "are continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks in areas where US citizens and expatriates reside or frequent".
The US also denied reports in Turkish news outlets and on social media that its security agencies knew in advance that the nightclub in Istanbul was at risk of a terror attack.
The US Embassy in Ankara said in a statement that "contrary to rumours circulating in social media, the US Government had no information about threats to specific entertainment venues, including the Reina Club".
Major attacks carried out by IS or Kurdish militants killed more than 180 people in Istanbul and Ankara alone in 2016.