January 01, 2017
Police on Sunday were hunting a Santa Claus-clad killer who opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding nearly 70 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.
“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.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the man was still on the run, adding: “efforts to find the terrorist are continuing.”
“Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time,” the minister said.
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.
“This was a massacre, a truly inhuman savagery,” Soylu said.
The attack occurred shortly after midnight in the club where an estimated 600 people celebrated New Year’s Eve. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack and the music fell silent.
The club is located close to recent suicide attacks that killed dozens near a soccer stadium. The nightclub area remained sealed off on Sunday morning.
Media reports said the assailant entered the Reina nightclub, in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district, at 1:15 a.m., 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 national security team on the attack in Istanbul,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “The President expressed condolences for the innocent lives lost, directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to the Turkish authorities, as necessary, and keep him updated as warranted.”
The White House has condemned the incident calling it a “horrific terrorist attack.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned “the terror attack in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighborhood in the first hours of 2017” and offered condolences for those who lost their lives, including “foreign guests.”
“Turkey continues its combat against terror and is absolutely determined to do whatever is necessary in the region to ensure its citizens safety and peace,” the Turkish president said in a written statement on Sunday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also sent his Turkish counterpart a telegram of condolences, saying “it is hard to imagine a more cynical crime than killing innocent people during New Year celebrations.”
“However, terrorists don’t share moral values. Our common duty is to combat terrorists’ aggression,” Putin added.
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 Claus and others as street vendors, Anadolu reported.
Ankara and Istanbul however, have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State group or Kurdish rebels, killing more than 180 people.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups.
“Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror,” Bozdag said on Twitter.