Istanbul: Turkish police are hunting for an assailant who – reportedly dressed as Santa Claus – opened fire at a crowded Istanbul nightclub during New Year’s celebrations on Sunday, killing at least 39 people and wounding close to 70 others in what authorities said was a terror attack.
The attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside Istanbul’s popular Reina club at around 1:15 am before entering and firing on people partying inside, Governor Vasip Sahin said. He did not say who may have carried out the attack.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the attacker, who has not been identified, was still at large. “Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time,” he said.
Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the upscale nightclub, on the shores of the Bosporus, on the European side of the city, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit. The minister said the attacker was believed to have left the club wearing different clothing to what he entered the club in. He said the attacker is believed to have carried out the assault alone.
At least 15 of the dead were foreign nationals, Soylu said, without providing information on their nationalities. 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 hospitals, four in serious condition, Soylu said.
Three or four of the Turkish victims may have been employees at the nightclub, he said.
Governor 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,” Sahin told reporters.
Police with riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicles blocked the area close to the Reina nightclub, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul. Several ambulances flashing blue lights arrived on the scene, some taking wounded to hospitals.
An estimated 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is often frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack and the music fell silent.
Turkey was rocked by a series of deadly attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State group or Kurdish militants, killing more than 180 people.
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 disguised as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported.