Turkish police still searching for attacker after at least 39 shot dead in assault on New Year’s Eve party in district of Ortakoy
Latest updates: governor describes ‘terror attack’ at Reina nightclub
Istanbul is on high alert after a gunman opened fire on partygoers at a New Year’s Eve celebration in one of the most popular nightclubs in Istanbul, killing 39 people and wounding 69. The interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, has said the attacker is still on the loose. Earlier government reports stated there was a lone gunman who was killed by police. The attack at the Reina club in the Ortakoy district is one of the deadliest to hit the city in the past year.
While the perpetrator has not yet been identified and no group has claimed responsibility, authorities called it an “act of terror”. “At 1.15am, a terrorist carrying a long-barrelled weapon martyred the police officer waiting outside, and then martyred another citizen to enter,” Istanbul’s governor, Vasip Sahin, said. “He then carried out this violent and cruel act by spraying bullets on innocent people who were celebrating the new year.”
Turkey has endured numerous terror attacks over the past year by Islamic State militants, who have forcefully called in recent months for attacks in the country, as well as by Kurdish separatist groups. Just three weeks ago a twin bombing outside the football stadium in the district of Besiktas killed 46 people, most of them police officers, two hours after a football match.
Police cordoned off the site of the nightclub attack on Sunday morning and officers with riot shields blocked the road leading to the club, which is situated next to one of the bridges across the Bosphorus. Ambulances shuttled the wounded out of the scene to other nearby hospitals. It is still unclear how many assailants were involved. The authorities initially said one gunman entered the club and was later killed by police, yet witness testimony in Turkish media appeared to describe more than one attacker, heightening fears that at least one other gunman remained on the loose.
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 weeping 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. Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the Reina nightclub dressed in a Father Christmas outfit. A brother of one of the workers inside Reina was waiting outside in the rain with his wife for news. His brother appeared to have lost his phone in the chaos and they have been unable so far to get in touch.
“We hope he is fine,” the man said. “My sister called me with the news that there was an attack and we put on our clothes and rushed here. It was really hard because no taxis wanted to go here.” 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.
Large number of police officers were deployed throughout the city, particularly the districts surrounding Ortakoy and closed off several streets. Istiklal Avenue, a street that is popular with tourists, had a large police presence, with police cars and officers keeping watch. 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.”