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35 killed and 40 wounded in New Year’s attack on Istanbul night club

Police secure area near an Istanbul nightclub, Turkey, January 1, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

December 31, 2016

An armed assailant who is believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, killing at least 35 people and wounding 40 others, according to Istanbul’s governor and Turkey’s state-run news agency.

Gov. Vasip Sahin said the attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club before entering and firing on people partying inside. He did not say who may have carried out the attack.

“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.

Footage from the scene showed at least six ambulances with flashing lights and civilians being escorted out. NTV said police had cordoned off the area and an operation to capture the assailant was ongoing.

It is believed that more than 500 people were inside the club at the time of the incident.

Media reports said the assailant entered the Reina nightclub, in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district, at 1:45 am, dressed in a Santa Claus costume. Some customers jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack, the report said.

Later in the evening, President Barack Obama expressed condolences for the attack and directed his team to offer U.S. help to Turkish authorities, the White House said.

“This afternoon the president was briefed by his nationalsecurity team on the attack in Istanbul,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “The president expressed condolences for the innocent liveslost, directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to theTurkish authorities, as necessary, and keep him updated aswarranted.”

An AP photographer says police cordoned off the area about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away from the nightclub and reported multiple ambulances passing by.

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 camouflaged as Santa Clause and others as street vendors, Anadolu reported.

Ankara and Istanbul have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State terror group or Kurdish rebels, killing more than 180 people.