Turkey nightclub shooting: Manhunt after at least 39 killed

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan says Ireland stands in solidarity with Turkey

CCTV footage of the shooter entering an Istanbul nightclub has surfaced, showing the gunman firing shots, hitting one bystander, before entering the premises. Video: Haberdar

 

A massive manhunt is under way across Istanbul to capture the perpetrator of a mass shooting that killed at least 39 revellers at an upscale nightclub early on January 1st, in an attack Turkish authorities believe was the work of a single gunman.

After shooting a police officer and a civilian outside the club in Istanbul’s central Ortakoy district, the assailant entered the venue and unloaded hundreds of rounds into a crowd of between 600 and 700 people celebrating the start of the new year.

The perpetrator is thought to have fled the Reina nightclub along with patrons as they ran out of the seaside venue. Authorities have not commented on whether the man may be connected to terrorist groups.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey, which is facing the twin threat of Kurdish separatists and Islamic State jihadists, would continue to fight terrorism.

“They are trying to create chaos, demoralise our people, and destabilise our country with abominable attacks which target civilians . . . Turkey is firm on doing whatever it takes to protect its citizens’ safety and peace in the region. Turkey will stand together and not give passage to the dirty games of terrorists,” he said on Sunday.

Turkey has suffered a drastic rise in the number of terrorist attacks in recent weeks, with a bombing by Kurdish separatists at Besiktas stadium on December 10th killing 45 people, mostly riot police. A Turkish security guard who survived the December 10th attack was killed by the gunman at the nightclub, local media reported.

International visitors

Foreign partygoers made up the majority of the casualties at the Reina club, which for a decade has been popular with international visitors to the city. Seven Saudi nationals in addition to four people from Iraq, three Jordanians, two each from India and Tunisia, as well as citizens of Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Canada and Belgium died in the attack that took place at 1.15am on Sunday morning. Four people are said to remain in a critical condition in hospital.

Local media described scenes of chaos in the club, which usually has hundreds of revellers on weekends, including people jumping into the Bosphorus to evade the attacker.

Families gathered outside the police cordon to inquire about relatives who were missing at the club, many of them crying as they waited in the cold and rainy Istanbul night. Two men sobbed and collapsed in tears when they received news that a relative who was in the club had died.

Many were unable to reach their relatives.

One man who witnessed the attack inside Reina described the rush for the exits after someone came in and began firing shots at the crowd, but the witness was unable to describe the scene in detail because he was in shock.

Sinem Uyanik was inside the club with her husband who was wounded in the attack. “Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said outside Istanbul’s Sisli Etfal hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.”

Her husband was not in serious condition despite sustaining three wounds.

Mehmet Gormez, Turkey’s president of religious affairs, said that the attacker, who may have been motivated by the celebration of New Year’s Eve, said the massacre would not divide the country.

“The only nuance which differentiates the terrorist action committed from others, is that it aims to divide the nation and confront people from different lifestyles by inciting them,” he said.

Despite a 24-hour ban on the entry of heavy vehicles into Istanbul and Ankara in the lead up to the year-end celebrations in a bid to prevent the kind of vehicular bomb attacks that have struck Istanbul, Ankara and Kayseri in the past, attacks using small arms, such as the assault at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport last June which killed 45 people, have proved more difficult to prevent. As a result, Turkey has experienced a huge fall-off in visits by international tourists this year.

International reaction

The White House condemned the “savagery” of the attack. “The United States condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack at a nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey, which has left dozens dead and many more wounded,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“That such an atrocity could be perpetrated upon innocent revellers, many of whom were celebrating New Year’s Eve, underscores the savagery of the attackers.”

President Michael D Higgins said he had asked the Ambassador to convey his condolences to the families of the victims.

“I have conveyed to the Turkish Ambassador the deepest sympathy and solidarity of the Irish people on hearing of the terrible recent attack and tragic loss of life of civilians, both Turkish and other nationalities, who were celebrating the New Year,” he said,

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said he had also extended his condolences to the families of those killed.

“I unreservedly condemn the heinous violent attack in the nightclub in Istanbul in the early hours of this morning,” he said.

“My thoughts are with the people of Turkey today, as they come to terms with yet another terrorist attack on their country. It is particularly heartrending that this attack targeted people on New Year’s Eve, a time when we join together in our hope for a more peaceful future.”

Mr Flanagan said Ireland’s Embassy in Ankara was in close contact with local Turkish authorities and other authorities.

“We have not received any report of any Irish casualties,” he said.

“Terrorists will not prevail in destabilising democracy as long as we continue to stand together and I reiterate that Ireland, along with other European Union Member States, stands in solidarity with Turkey in the fight against terrorism.”

Following the attack, Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, which classifies Turkey a country where a “high degree of caution” should be exercised, posted to its website that Irish citizens in the country should be alert of threats.

“If you are in Istanbul you should exercise extreme caution at all times, avoid crowded areas and those frequented by foreigners, and continue to follow local security advice and monitor local media. Citizens throughout Turkey should remain very vigilant and exercise a high degree of caution,” the statement reads.

The Minister said any Irish citizen in Istanbul that needed assistance or anyone in Ireland concerned about a person in Istanbul should contact 01-4082000 or 0090-312-4591000.

Additional reporting: Agencies