Istanbul nightclub attacker's identity established

© REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir. Turkish police stand guard outisde the Reina nightclub by the Bosphorus, which was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul

Turkey says Istanbul attacker's identity established, manhunt goes on

Turkey has established the identity of the gunman who killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Day, its foreign minister said on Wednesday, as police detained suspected Islamic State members of Central Asian and North African origin.

In an interview with the state-run Anadolu news agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave no further details about the gunman, whom Turkish officials have not named.

The attacker shot his way into the exclusive Reina nightclub on Sunday, then opened fire with an automatic rifle, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground. Turks as well as visitors from several Arab nations, India and Canada were among the dead.

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

Turkish media reports have said the attacker is believed to be an ethnic Uighur, possibly from Kyrgyzstan. He appeared to have been well-versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria, according to one security source.

Police in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir said they had detained 20 suspected Islamic State militants thought to be of Central Asian and North African origin in raids on three addresses. Fake passports, cell phones, and equipment including night vision goggles and a GPS device were seized.

Police did not say whether the detentions were directly linked to the Istanbul nightclub attack. But local media reports have said the gunman is thought to have entered Turkey from Syria and spent time in Konya, travelling with his wife and two children so as not to attract attention.

At least 36 people have been detained since the attack, according to Turkish media reports. Anadolu said on Tuesday that 14 people had been detained in Istanbul, while NTV reported that two foreign nationals had been held at Istanbul's main airport.

Among those held in Istanbul were seven Uighurs detained at a restaurant in the working-class neighbourhood of Zeytinburnu, where the gunman was thought to have gone by taxi after the attack and asked to borrow money to pay the driver, according to the Haberturk newspaper.

It said raids had been carried out on 50 addresses in the district, where many Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Uighurs live.

"NOBODY'S LIFESTYLE UNDER THREAT"

The shooting in Istanbul's Ortakoy neighbourhood, an upscale district on the Bosphorus shore, came after a year in which NATO member Turkey was shaken by a series of attacks by radical Islamist and Kurdish militants and by a failed coup.

Parliament voted overnight to extend emergency rule, first imposed after the attempted putsch, by another three months, enabling the government to enact new laws and limit or suspend rights and freedoms when deemed necessary.

President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack, which targeted a club popular with local celebrities and moneyed foreigners, was being exploited to try to divide the largely Sunni Muslim nation and that the state never meddled in how people lived.

"There is no point trying to blame the Ortakoy attack on differences in lifestyles," he said in a speech to local administrators at the presidential palace in Ankara.

"Nobody's lifestyle is under systematic threat in Turkey. We will never allow this," he said in comments broadcast live. It was his first public speech since the shooting.

Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, which condemned the attack in its immediate aftermath, had issued a statement in December saying celebrating the New Year did not fit with Muslim values, triggering criticism from some parts of Turkish society.

Such calls have made many secular Turks suspicious of the Islamist background of Erdogan and the ruling AK Party, seeing them as bent on eroding the secular principles of the modern republic founded in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after the fall of the Ottoman empire. Erdogan rejects such suggestions.


Gunman identified in Istanbul nightclub attack, Turkish authorities say


Turkish authorities said Wednesday they have identified the gunman who killed 39 people in the New Year's nightclub terror attack in Istanbul.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu announced the development but did not name the suspect or provide his nationality.

Authorities have also detained 20 alleged members of ISIS in connection with Sunday morning's attack at the Reina nightclub, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Wednesday.

Counterterrorism officers arrested the suspected militants at four addresses in the Bornova and Buca districts of the Aegean province of Izmir, according to Anadolu. Eleven women were among those arrested.

Anadolu said those detained are thought to have lived with the attacker in the central Anatolian city of Konya.

Anadolu also reported that an array of military hardware was discovered during the raids, including night-vision equipment, a sniper scope, an ammunition belt and other items. Twenty children found at the addresses were taken into temporary care.

Altogether, at least 36 people are being held in connection with the nightclub shooting, though the gunman who carried it out remains at large.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted to Twitter, but CNN cannot independently verify it. The terror group boasted of carrying out the first major terrorist attack of 2017.

Suspect seen in selfie video
On Monday, police released a video that the suspected gunman apparently took of himself in a market near the nightclub.

The "selfie video" featuring the man in Istanbul's Taksim Square was first posted on a pro-ISIS Telegram account before Turkish media broadcast it, said Laith Alkhouri, a director at Flashpoint, an American business risk intelligence company tracking terrorist and cyber threats.

Alkhouri told CNN that such a release suggests the attacker was part of a network supportive of or linked to ISIS, and that he had shared the selfie footage with the terror group before or after the attack.

Growing threats
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told lawmakers that Turkish security forces had prevented 339 major terror incidents in 2016 -- 80 of which came in the final three months of the year.

In his speech to parliament, Soylu cited attacks launched by the militant Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as those by Daesh, the Arabic term for ISIS.

Anadolu quoted Soylu as saying that "313 of the incidents were planned by PKK, 22 by Daesh and four by radical leftist groups."

He said that 247 improvised explosives and 61 bomb vehicles had been seized in 12 months.

He also revealed the capture of 23 suicide bomber suspects as well as 42 terrorist group members who were preparing for attacks.

Both ISIS and Kurdish militants have launched attacks in Turkey, which is reeling from a failed military coup in July.

On Wednesday, Anadolu reported that authorities arrested four people, including a woman, in connection with a December 17 car bombing that killed 13 soldiers and wounded dozens in the central city of Kayseri.

Victims from 14 countries
At least 11 victims in this week's attack on the upscale nightclub were from Turkey, according to Anadolu, while at least 27 victims hailed from 13 other countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Canada.

Dozens of people were hospitalized. A handful of the injured were in critical condition.

Witnesses described how the New Year's Eve celebration turned into a bloodbath.

"We were having fun. At first we thought it was a fight, then there was a lot of gunfire," Yunus Turk told CNN.

"After the gunfire, everyone started to run toward the terrace. We ran as well. There was someone next to me who was shot and fell on the floor. We ran away and hid under the sofas."

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