Gunman hunted after Turkish massacre

People leave as medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in the Turkish city of Istanbul
People leave as medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in the Turkish city of Istanbul
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Turkish police are hunting a gunman who opened fire at an Istanbul nightclub during new year celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding nearly 70 in what authorities said was a terror attack.

The attacker, wearing a Santa Claus hat at one point and armed with a long-barrelled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the Reina club at around 1.15am. He then entered and fired on people inside, governor Vasip Sahin said.

CCTV footage shows that the assailant wore a Santa Claus hat for part of the attack, which unfolded despite increased security measures.

The footage, obtained by AP from Haberturk newspaper, shows the male assailant dressed in black and carrying a rucksack as he shoots the police officer.

Footage taken by a different camera shows him inside the club in Istanbul’s Ortakoy area wearing different clothes and a Santa Claus hat.

Reina owner Mehmet Kocarslan, interviewed by Dogan news agency, said police had boosted security measures in the wealthy neighbourhood and its vicinity.

The measures included tents at key locations with a 24-hour police presence and complementary efforts by the coast guard at sea.

“Despite all these precautions by police forces, unfortunately this painful event took place. We don’t know what to say,” he added. “We are at the point where all words end.”

Three Lebanese citizens were wounded in the shooting, including the daughter of a member of parliament, Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry has said.

The ministry said via state media the three Lebanese were lightly wounded. It said they were the daughter of Estephan El Douaihy and two men.

An Israeli woman has also been identified as one of the victims. Israel’s foreign ministry said 18-year-old Leanne Nasser from the Israeli-Arab town of Tira was killed.

She was celebrating with three friends at the nightclub when the gunman broke in and opened fire. Her friend Ruaa Mansour, also 18, was moderately wounded and another two friends were unharmed.

Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu said the attacker, who has not been identified, is still at large, adding: “Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “I vehemently condemn the terror attack in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighbourhood in the first hours of 2017.”

Offering his condolences for those who lost their lives, including “foreign guests”, Mr Erdogan added: “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, saw the suspect shoot at a police officer and a bystander. “I was in shock at the scene,” he said.

Mr 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,” he said.

IPhone footage filmed by Mr Dag shows a police officer lying on the ground outside the club, and then a woman. Mr 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 an ambulance and footage shows ambulances and the lights of an Istanbul bridge when the sound of gunfire rings out inside the club.

Another witness, Sinem Uyanik, said she saw several bodies inside the club and her husband Lutfu Uyanik was wounded but not seriously.

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

The private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the nightclub, on the European side of the Bosporus waterway, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. The minister said the attacker is believed to have carried out the assault alone and left the club wearing different clothing.

At least 15 of the dead were foreign nationals, Mr Soylu said. Five of the victims were identified as Turkish nationals while authorities were still trying to identify the rest.

At least 69 people were being treated in hospital, four in serious condition, Mr Soylu added. Three or four of the Turkish victims may have been employees at the nightclub, he said.

About 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is often frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars.

“This was a massacre, a truly inhuman savagery,” Mr Soylu said.

Mr Sahin said: “Unfortunately (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate new year and have fun.”

Some customers jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack, the NTV report said.

Police with riot gear and machine guns backed up by armoured vehicles blocked the area close to the club, one of the most popular nightspots in Istanbul.

The White House condemned what it called a “horrific terrorist attack” and offered US help to Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Mr Erdogan a message, saying: “It is hard to imagine a more cynical crime than killing innocent people during new year celebrations. However, terrorists don’t share moral values. Our common duty is to combat terrorists’ aggression.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel sent her condolences to the victims, saying “terrorists ... have carried out an inhumane and devious attack on people who wanted to celebrate the New Year together”.

“My thoughts this morning are with the victims, their families and friends,” she said.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun condemned the attack in a letter to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying all countries should coordinate in fighting terrorism.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted: “Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies.”

Pope Francis decried the attack, carried out on what he called a “night of good-wishes and hope”.

He told pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square in Rome that he was close in prayer to the many dead and to their families, to the wounded and the entire Turkish people.

The attack on civilians celebrating the New Year in an Istanbul nightclub was the latest in a long line of assaults in Turkey in the past year. Here are some of the most significant attacks.

:: January 12, Istanbul: A suicide bomber killed 12 German tourists in an attack that authorities said was linked to Islamic State (IS).

:: February 17, Ankara: A suicide car bomb apparently targeting military personnel killed 29 people. It was claimed by TAK, an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

:: March 13, Ankara: A Kurdish woman killed 37 people when she blew herself up in a car at a transport hub. It was also claimed by TAK.

:: June 28, Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport: A trio of suicide bombers armed with assault rifles slaughtered 44 people and wounded nearly 150.

:: August 20, Gaziantep: A suicide bomber as young as 12 killed at least 51 people at a Kurdish wedding party in an attack suspected of being directed by IS.

:: December 10, Istanbul: A double bomb attack outside football stadium killed 44 people and wounded 149.

:: December 19, Ankara: A Turkish riot police officer assassinated Russia’s ambassador to the country at a photo exhibition.