A gunman opened fire on New Year revelers at a packed nightclub on the shores of Istanbul’s Bosporus on Jan. 1 killing at least 39 people, including many foreigners, before fleeing the scene.
The terror attack at the waterside Reina nightclub began when 2017 in Turkey was just 75 minutes old, after a year of unprecedented bloodshed that saw hundreds die in strikes blamed on Kurdish militants and jihadists.
The assailant shot dead a policeman and a civilian at the club entrance and then went on a shooting spree inside, where up to 700 people were feting the New Year.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said the attacker had escaped and was now the target of a major manhunt, expressing hope that the suspect “would be captured soon.”
The hunt for the attacker was ongoing.
“The attacker – in the most brutal and merciless way – targeted innocent people who had only come here to celebrate the New Year and have fun,” Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin said at the scene.
The identities of 35 victims killed in the attack have been confirmed as 24 have been identified as foreign citizens, while eleven of them were reported to be Turkish citizens.
The foreign victims were identified as seven Saudi Arabian nationals, two Indians, one Canadian, one Syrian, one Israeli, two Tunisians, four Iraqis, one Lebanese and one Belgian.
The attack shook Turkey as it tries to recover from the failed July 15, 2016 coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and others claimed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
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-ISIL group called for attacks by “lone wolves” on “celebrations, gatherings and clubs.”
The incident bore echoes of an attack by ISIL militants on Paris’s Bataclan music hall in November 2015 that, along with assaults on bars and restaurants, killed 130 people.
Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIL and launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive terror groups from its borders. It also helped broker a fragile cease-fire in Syria with Russia.
A month ago, a spokesman for ISIL urged supporters to target “the secular, apostate Turkish government.”
Public celebrations in Turkey’s major cities were made under tight security measures, with many central streets being closed to traffic and trucks being banned from entering the cities.
In Istanbul, at least 17,000 police officers were deployed.
The Reina club is one of Istanbul’s best known nightspots, popular with locals and foreigners. Some 700 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 Şahin said the attacker used a “long-range weapon” to “brutally and savagely” fire on people, apparently referring to some form of assault rifle.
Turkey has seen a series of attacks in recent weeks. On Dec. 10, two bombs placed by PKK militants exploded outside a football stadium in central Istanbul, killing 44 people.
A car bomb by the PKK killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty soldiers in the central city of Kayseri a week later.
On Dec. 19, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead by an off-duty police officer while giving a speech in Ankara.
In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three ISIL militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport.