Bloody New year as Istanbul mourns hundreds

Turkish special force police officers and ambulances are seen at the site of an armed attack January 1, 2017 in Istanbul.
At least two people were killed in an armed attack Saturday on an Istanbul nightclub where people were celebrating the New Year, Turkish television reports said. / AFP PHOTO / YASIN AKGUL

Thirty-nine people were killed and dozens wounded Sunday when a gunman stormed a popular Istanbul nightclub and sprayed bullets at revellers celebrating the New Year.

Here is what we know about the massacre early Sunday, the latest to rock Turkey after a bloody 2016.

– The attack –

The assailant shot dead a policeman and a civilian at the entrance to the Reina nightclub and then went on a shooting rampage inside, officials said.

Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin branded it a “terror attack”, the latest to strike Turkey after a wave of assaults by Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish militants.

No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the nightclub horror.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the attacker escaped and was now the target of a major manhunt, expressing hope the suspect “would be captured soon”.

Dogan news agency said the gunman was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, although this has yet to be confirmed.

– The venue –

The attack took place at the swanky Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy district on the banks of the Bosphorus on the European side of the city.

There were reportedly as many as 700 people dancing to celebrate the New Year, which chimed in just over an hour before the attack.

The club is one of Istanbul’s most exclusive nightspots and it is notoriously hard to get past the bouncers, who seek out only the best dressed.

Television pictures showed shellshocked revellers in party dress — men in suits and women in cocktail dresses — emerging dazed from the scene.

The attack sparked mass panic, with some diving into the Bosphorus Strait between Europe and Asia to escape the bullets. Rescuers battled to salvage them from the water.

– The victims –

Thirty-nine people were killed with another 65 being treated in hospital, the interior minister Soylu said. Four of those injured are said to be in a serious condition.

Twenty of the dead have been identified so far, including 15 foreigners and five Turks.

The Jordanian foreign ministry was quoted by the official Petra news agency as saying three of its citizens were killed and another four injured.

The Tunisian foreign ministry said on its Facebook page that two Tunisians died, with media reports describing the victims as a businessman and his wife.

The French foreign ministry confirmed three nationals were injured while the Israeli government said a young Israeli woman was killed and another Israeli wounded.

Belgium’s foreign ministry confirmed a Belgian-Turkish dual national was killed.

Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya said the majority of those injured were foreigners, adding that some came from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and Libya.

– Terror in Turkey –

After a bloody 2016, the authorities were on their guard and at least 17,000 police officers were deployed in the city for the New Year festivities.

Turkey has endured bomb attacks at an airport, a suicide bombing at a wedding and an attack near a top football stadium last year.

The carnage has been blamed either on Kurdish militants or the Islamic State jihadist extremist group.

Last month, the Russian ambassador was shot dead at an Ankara art gallery by an off-duty policeman shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “Don’t forget Aleppo”.

The Turkish army is waging a four-month incursion in Syria to oust the IS group and Kurdish militants from the border area.

Rebels from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what is considered its radical offshoot the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) have claimed a spate of attacks since the collapse of a ceasefire in the summer of 2015.

– The reaction –

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that with such attacks, “they are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos.”

US National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said Washington condemned in the strongest terms the “horrific terrorist attack”.

“We reaffirm the support of the United States for Turkey, our NATO ally, in our shared determination to confront and defeat all forms of terrorism,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their condolences to Erdogan.

“It’s hard to imagine a crime more cynical than the killing of civilians during a New Year’s celebration,” Putin said.

Merkel said: “In Istanbul they committed an inhumane, sneaky attack on people who wanted to celebrate the turn of the year.”

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