Turkish nightclub attack: Suspect versed in ‘guerrilla warfare’

Media runs ‘selfie’ video of main suspect in shooting which left 39 dead over new year

 

The gunman who killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day in an attack claimed by Islamic State appears to have been well versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria, a newspaper report and a security source said on Tuesday.

The attacker, who remains at large, shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance to the exclusive Reina nightclub on Sunday.

He moved inside and opened fire with an automatic rifle, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and shooting wounded people as they lay on the ground.

In a statement claiming the attack on Monday, Islamic State described the club as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their “apostate holiday” and said the shooting was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.

“The assailant has experience in combat for sure ... he could have been fighting in Syria for years,” one security source told Reuters, saying the attacker was likely to have been directed in his actions by the jihadist group.

‘Travelled with family’

The Haberturk newspaper said police investigations had revealed the gunman had entered Turkey from Syria and went to the central city of Konya in November, travelling with his wife and two children so as not to attract attention.

Some Turkish media reported that police were seeking a 28-year-old Kyrgyz national, believed to be the gunman.

Kyrgyzstan’s security service said it was in touch with Turkish authorities and that a man had been questioned by Kyrgyz police and then released.

Turkish officials have not commented on the details of the investigation. But government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the authorities were close to fully identifying the gunman, after gathering fingerprints and information on his appearance.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said a total of 14 people had been detained. Two foreign nationals were detained at Istanbul’s main Ataturk airport in connection with the attack, broadcaster NTV said.

A selfie video of the alleged attacker, apparently walking around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, was broadcast by Turkish news channels on Tuesday as police operations to track him down continued.

Mr Kurtulmus made no reference to the Islamic State claim of responsibility on Monday but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had incensed terrorist groups and those behind them.

Nato member Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against Islamic State and since August has been conducting military operations inside Syria to drive the radical Sunni militants, as well as Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.

Civilian targets

Islamic State has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months.

However, other than assassinations, this was the first time it has directly claimed any of them. It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere.

Haberturk cited a barman at the club as saying the gunman had thrown explosive devices several times during the shooting spree, apparently in order to disorientate people and give himself time to reload.

Several witnesses who spoke to Reuters also said there had been small explosions during the attack.

Haberturk newspaper also earlier said the man was thought to be a member of China’s Muslim Uighur minority. It said he arrived in the Turkish city of Konya with his wife and two children. His family was detained, it said.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel, India, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed.

Authorities say the man’s fingerprints have been identified, while video footage depicting his face and appearance was broadcast by Turkish media outlets on Monday.

Changed clothes

The man is reported to have taken a taxi from the Zeytinburnu district in south Istanbul to Reina nightclub, which is on the shores of the Bosphorus strait.

Upon shooting his way into the club, he first targeted crowds in an upper level before moving downstairs and then to the kitchen area, where he changed his clothes before running out into the street and hailing a taxi that drove north along the Bosphorus shoreline.

Officials said he may be from the same cell responsible for a gun-and-bomb attack on Istanbul’s main airport in June, in which 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in Istanbul and elsewhere, some blamed on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.

Deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus said that terrorists continue to be bent on creating instability in Turkey.

“Wherever they may hide in 2017, we will enter their lair . . . With the will of God, with the support of our people, with all our national capacity, we will bring them to their knees and give them all the necessary response,” he told journalists in Ankara on Monday.

Some experts who have seen footage of the attack say the assailant moved and shot at his victims in the manner of a professional or someone with combat experience.

Agencies