Dozens killed in New Year's attack on Istanbul nightclub

Reuters
No clarity yet on responsibility for Istanbul attack -Turkish PM

ISTANBUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Turkish authorities are starting to uncover evidence about a gun attack on an Istanbul nightclub which killed 39 people on Sunday but there is no clarity yet on who was responsible, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.

"Some details have started emerging, but the authorities are working towards a concrete result," Yildirim told reporters, when asked about who might have been behind the attack.

"Police and security officials will share information as it becomes available during the investigation," he said.

EARLIER:

ISTANBUL, Jan 1 (Reuters) - A gunman opened fire on New Year revellers at a packed nightclub on the shores of Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway on Sunday killing at least 39 people, including many foreigners, then fled the scene.

Some people jumped into the Bosphorus waters to save themselves after the attacker opened fire at random in the Reina nightclub just over an hour into the new year. Officials spoke of a single attacker but some reports, including on social media, suggested there may have been more.

The attack shook NATO member Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on Islamic State and others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for new year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people. Only days ago, an online message from a pro-Islamic State group called for attacks by "lone wolves" on "celebrations, gatherings and clubs".

The Hurriyet newspaper cited witnesses as saying the attackers shouted in Arabic as they opened fire at Reina.

"We were having fun. All of a sudden people started to run. My husband said don't be afraid, and he jumped on me. People ran over me. My husband was hit in three places," one club-goer, Sinem Uyanik, told the newspaper.

"I managed to push through and get out, it was terrible," she said, describing seeing people soaked in blood.

The incident bore echoes of an attack by militant Islamists on Paris's Bataclan music hall in November 2015 that, along with assaults on bars and restaurants, killed 130 people.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 15 or 16 of those killed at Reina were foreigners but only 21 bodies had so far been identified. He told reporters 69 people were in hospital, four of them in critical condition.

"A manhunt for the terrorist is underway," he said.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel and Belgium were among those killed, officials said. France said three of its citizens were wounded.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants from its borders. It also helped broker a fragile ceasefire in Syria with Russia.

"As a nation, we will fight to the end against not just the armed attacks of terror groups, but also against their economic, political and social attacks," President Tayyip Erdogan said in a written statement.

"They are trying to create chaos, demoralize our people, and destabilize our country ... We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games," he said.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but Erdogan linked the attacks to developments in the region where Turkey faces conflict across its frontier in Syria and Iraq. Some three million Syrian refugees currently live on Turkish soil.

The Reina club is one of Istanbul's best known nightspots, popular with locals and foreigners. Some 600 people were thought to have been inside when the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forced his way in and then opened fire.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the attacker used a "long-range weapon" to "brutally and savagely" fire on people, apparently referring to some form of assault rifle.

U.S. President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, expressed condolences and directed his team to offer help to the Turkish authorities, the White House said.

"POLICE MOVED IN QUICKLY"

Dozens of ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to the club in Ortakoy, a neighbourhood on the city's European side nestled under one of three bridges crossing the Bosphorus and home to nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries.

"I didn't see who was shooting but heard the gun shots and people fled. Police moved in quickly," Sefa Boydas, a Turkish soccer player, wrote on Twitter.

"My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and carried her out on my back," he said.

Hurriyet quoted Reina's owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, as saying security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after U.S. intelligence reports suggested a possible attack.

Turkey faces multiple threats including spillover from the war in Syria. Beside its cross-border campaign against Islamic State, it is fighting Kurdish militants in its southeast.

The New Year's Day attack came five months after a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of Turkey's security apparatus.

On Dec. 28, the Nashir Media Foundation, which backs Islamic State, urged sympathisers to carry out attacks in Europe during the holiday period and to "replace their fireworks with explosive belts and devices, and turn their singing and clapping into weeping and wailing".

A month ago, a spokesman for Islamic State urged supporters to target "the secular, apostate Turkish government".

Turkey has seen repeated attacks in recent weeks. On Dec. 10, two bombs claimed by Kurdish militants exploded outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul, killing 44 people.

A car bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri a week later, an attack Erdogan also blamed on Kurdish militants.

The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead as he gave a speech in Ankara on Dec. 19 by an off-duty police officer who shouted "Don't forget Aleppo" and "Allahu Akbar".

In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three suspected Islamic State militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul's main Ataturk airport.


Terrorist Attack at Nightclub in Istanbul Kills Dozens



ISTANBUL — A gunman opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul filled with New Year’s revelers about an hour after midnight Sunday, killing at least 39 people and injuring scores of others, according to Turkish officials.

Fifteen of the people killed were foreigners, the Foreign Ministry said. They included three Jordanians; two Indians; a Tunisian couple; a teenager from Israel; a Lebanese man; and a dual citizen of Belgium and Turkey, according to news agencies and government statements.

Sixty-nine people were hospitalized, four of them in critical condition. Among the scores of injured people were citizens of France, Israel, Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the gunman was being sought.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the mass shooting, which came as threats against Turkey by the Islamic State and its supporters have increased. It was the fourth terrorist attack in Turkey in less than a month.

“They are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting our nation’s peace and targeting civilians with these heinous attacks,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. “We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”

He added: “Turkey is determined to continue to fight to the end against terror and to do whatever is necessary to ensure the security of its citizens and secure peace in the region.”

The attack started about 1:15 a.m. at the Reina nightclub, in the Ortakoy neighborhood overlooking the Bosporus. The club is known for its celebrity clientele and its popularity among foreigners. As many as 600 people were celebrating the New Year when a lone attacker, said to be armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, burst in, officials said.

Gov. Vasip Sahin of Istanbul Province said a police officer outside the club had been killed before the bloodshed began inside.

“One person first kills the police officer outside, and then a civilian,” Mr. Sahin said. “Inside, he rained bullets brutally, mercilessly over innocent people who were there just to celebrate the New Year and have fun.”

In the ensuing panic and the rush to escape, some clubgoers jumped into the Bosporus — which separates Europe and Asia — and others hunkered down for safety.

Sinem Uyanik, who was there with her husband, Lutfu Uyanik, told The Associated Press that she had seen several bodies inside the club. Her husband was wounded, she added, but not seriously.

“Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said. “I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out.”

A wounded man on a stretcher told the independent Turkish news agency DHA that the attacker had “put a bullet to the head of anyone alive.”

Television footage showed dozens of ambulances rushing to the scene and people fleeing, some walking with difficulty, arm in arm.

The owner of Reina, Mehmet Kocarslan, told the Hurriyet news site that security measures had been beefed up over the past 10 days after American intelligence officials had warned about an attack in Turkey over the holidays.

The Istanbul shooting came just days after the Nashir Media Foundation, a group identified by experts as supporting the Islamic State, published the last of three messages calling on individual attackers in the West to turn the holiday season into days of “terror and blood.” It urged attacks on clubs, markets and movie theaters.

Nashir Media singled out Turkey in its threats. “Attack the embassies and consulates of Turkey and all coalition countries where you are,” the message said. “Turn their happiness and joy into grieves,” it went on in garbled English, “and their feasts into funerals.”

In addition, there have been numerous official threats by the Islamic State, including from its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in his most recent speech called for attacks against Turkey.

On Dec. 22, the United States government said in a statement that extremist groups were “continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks throughout Turkey” in areas where American citizens and expatriates lived or visited. The statement urged caution about being in crowded places and public gatherings during the holidays.

The Turkish prime minister, Binali Yildirim, immediately cracked down on news coverage of the attack. He directed news outlets to await official government updates. He invoked a law that enables a news blackout for national security reasons or in cases of serious disturbances to public order.

A White House official said President Obama had been briefed by his national security advisers about the nightclub attack. Mr. Obama expressed his condolences and offered assistance to the Turkish authorities.

“We stand in solidarity with our NATO ally Turkey in combating the ongoing threat of terrorism,” Mark C. Toner, the deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in a statement.

The attack, a bloody start to the new year, drew condemnation from world leaders.

Pope Francis prayed for the victims in the attack, for those injured, “and the whole nation in mourning,” during his weekly address to the faithful on Sunday at St. Peter’s Square, in Vatican City. Expressing his “closeness to the Turkish people,” the pope asked “the Lord to support all people of good will who roll up their sleeves to boldly tackle the scourge of terrorism and this stain of blood that envelops the world with a shadow of fear and bewilderment.”

Marking the Roman Catholic Church’s 50th World Day of Peace, the pope told an estimated 50,000 faithful that peace was built by “saying ‘no’ — with facts — to hate and violence, and ‘yes’ to brotherhood and reconciliation.”

Turkey is still dealing with the aftershocks of a coup attempt that began on July 15, in which at least 265 people were killed.

Though the effort sputtered in a matter of hours, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded with a months long crackdown targeting dissidents across Turkish society. In addition to arresting thousands of military personnel suspected of involvement in the coup, hundreds of thousands of civil servants, educational workers and journalists have been suspended.

The coup and the assassination of Ambassador Andrey G. Karlov of Russia in Ankara on Dec. 19 raised concerns that the country’s security establishment has grown ineffective. The internal turmoil also raised doubts about how well Turkey would be able to participate in international counter terrorism efforts, especially against the Islamic State.

Since the crackdown began, protests against Mr. Erdogan have led to frequent clashes between demonstrators and the police. And reports of targeted attacks against civilians after martial law was declared in July have revived painful memories of the political violence Turkey experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

Turkey’s struggles with security had already grown severe months before the coup attempt. A spate of suicide bombings and other attacks since 2015 was capped off by the June 28 attack on Istanbul Ataturk Airport, the country’s busiest. The attack left 45 people dead.

A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for a double bombing that killed 39 people and wounded 154 outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul on Dec. 10. That death toll ultimately climbed to 45.

A car bombing in central Turkey killed 13 soldiers and wounded more than 50 other members of the military on Dec. 17. Two days later, Mr. Karlov was assassinated.


New Year's Attack on Istanbul Nightclub Leaves 39 Dead

A gunman opened fire on an Istanbul nightclub crowded with revelers celebrating New Year's early Sunday, killing 39 people wounding nearly 70 more in what is being described as a terror attack, Turkey's interior minister said.

The attacker was still at large, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday. "Efforts to find the terrorist are continuing," Soylu said.

"Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time," the minister said.

The attacker killed a police officer and a civilian before entering the popular Reina nightclub in Istanbul's Ortakoy district at around 1:15 a.m. local time, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin Sahin said according to state media Anadolu Agency.

"He then carried out this violent and cruel act by spraying bullets on innocent people who were celebrating the New Year," Sahin said according to Anadolu Agency. The attacker was carrying a "long barreled weapon," Sahin said.

Istanbul's governor said earlier that 35 were killed in the attack. Sixteen of the dead were foreign nationals, Soylu said, but nationalities were not released. Five of the victims were Turkish nationals and 18 have yet to be identified, he said. Sixty-nine people were being treated in hospitals, he said.

Special forces sealed off a 2-mile radius around the nightclub after the shooting. There were more than 500 people inside the club at the time, private NTV television reported.

Sinem Uyanik was in the club with her husband, who was wounded in the attack.

"Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me," she told The Associated Press outside Istanbul's Sisli Hospital. "I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out."

U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed about the situation. "The President expressed condolences for the innocent lives lost," and instructed his team to offer appropriate assistance to Turkey, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said.

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms.

U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed about the situation. "The President expressed condolences for the innocent lives lost," and instructed his team to offer appropriate assistance to Turkey, White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said.

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms.

"That such an atrocity could be perpetrated upon innocent revelers, many of whom were celebrating New Year's Eve, underscores the savagery of the attackers," he said in a statement. Price reaffirmed U.S. support for Turkey, a NATO ally.

The Reina nightclub has been described as a trendy spot popular with the international crowd and frequented by celebrities. It is on shore of the Bosphorous strait.

Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Ankara and Istanbul have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by ISIS or Kurdish rebels, killing more than 180 people.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups.

"Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror," Bozdag said on Twitter.

gs near a stadium in Istanbul killed 38 people, mostly police officers, and injured 155 others. A Turkey-based Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for that attack.

The. U.S. embassy in Turkey in an emergency message warned U.S. citizens to avoid the area and asked Americans to contact family members. It reminded Americans that extremist groups are continuing "aggressive efforts" to carry out attacks in places where U.S. citizens live or frequent.

The U.S. State Department said it would remain in touch with Turkish authorities during the investigation. High Representative for the European Union Federica Mogherini tweeted her condolences.

Cities around the world stepped up security in anticipation of New Year's and following the truck attack on a Christmas market in Berlin and other terror attacks.

The attack in Istanbul prompted the New York Police Department to deploy some counter-terrorism teams and patrols to nightspots, police officials said although they cautioned there were no specific or credible threats to the city.

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