At least 39 people were killed and another 69 wounded when a gunman opened fire at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul, Turkey on Jan. 1, 2017, according to Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin called it a terrorist attack and told reporters the gunman first shot a police officer and a civilian as he entered the club in Ortakoy district. Police have cordoned off the area and ambulances are on the scene but the whereabouts of the attacker is still unknown.
An armored police vehicle blocks a road leading to the club. A gunman reportedly dressed in a Santa costume killed at least 39 people, including 16 foreigners, at a famous nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Armed with a long-barrelled weapon, the attacker shot a police officer before storming the elite Reina club in the Ortakoy area of the city at about 1.45am.
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, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said, describing the carnage as a terror attack.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the gunman was still at large. The search for the terrorist continues… I hope (the assailant) will be captured quickly, God willing.
Raising the death toll to 39, Mr Soylu said that of 21 victims who had been identified so far, 16 were foreigners and five were Turks. Another 69 people were being treated in hospital for their wounds.
It is not known if any Britons were among the casualties.
There were believed to be more than 500 people in the club at the time. Many party-goers threw themselves into the Bosphorus in panic after the attack and efforts were underway to rescue them from the waters, NTV television said.
Riot police stand guard after the attack
The whereabouts of the attacker was still unknown. Police special forces and explosives experts were searching the club, an NTV correspondent at the scene said.
Some witnesses claimed the attackers were “speaking Arabic”, according to Dogan news agency.
Surveillance footage appeared to show the gunman spraying bullets outside the club before entering. Another CCTV image is believed to show the attacker changing his jacket as he walks around inside the club.
As ambulances carried the wounded to hospitals, police in riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicles blocked the area around the club.
New Year partygoers – including men in suits and women in cocktail dresses – were seen emerging from the nightclub in a state of shock.
I had to lift several bodies
Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me, said Sinem Uyanik, who said she saw several bodies inside the Istanbul nightclub.
I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out, she told the Associated Press.
Her husband Lutfu Uyanik was wounded in the attack but was not in serious condition.
Dozens of ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to the club in Ortakoy, a neighbourhood on the city’s European side nestled under one of three bridges crossing the Bosphorus and home to nightclubs, restaurants and art galleries.
I didn’t see who was shooting but heard the gun shots and people fled. Police moved in quickly, Sefa Boydas, a Turkish soccer player, wrote on Twitter.
My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and carried her out on my back, he said.
People appeared to be crushed as they ran away from the attacker. When I was walking, people were walking on top of people, said Boydas, who plays full time for Istanbul club Beylerbeyi SK.
He described the screams which he said drowned out anything said by the attackers. “Even if there were shouting, you wouldn’t hear because the crowd’s screams were 100 times louder,” a distressed Boydas told AFP.
Obama offers help
US President Barack Obama expressed condolences for the attack and directed his team to offer US help to Turkish authorities, the White House said.
This afternoon the president was briefed by his national security team on the attack in Istanbul, Eric Schultz, White House spokesman, said.
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.
Ned Price, White House National Security Council spokesman, said the US condemned the attack.
That such an atrocity could be perpetrated upon innocent revelers, many of whom were celebrating New Year’s Eve, underscores the savagery of the attackers, he said. Mr Price added: We reaffirm the support of the United States for Turkey, our Nato ally, in our shared determination to confront and defeat all forms of terrorism.
The nightclub is one of the most elite spots in the city, and getting inside past the bouncers who seek out only the best dressed is notoriously hard.
Reina’s owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, said security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after US intelligence reports suggested a possible attack, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
Tragic start to 2017 in Istanbul, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.
British tourists warned
Turkish authorities have imposed a temporary blackout on coverage of the attack to prevent it spreading “fear in the public, panic and disorder”.
NTV television said some of the wounded were foreign nationals, without citing their nationalities.
The British Foreign Office was attempting to find out whether any British nationals were injured in the attack. “We are in touch with the local authorities following reports of an incident at a night club in Istanbul,” a spokesman said.
The FCO said UK tourists travelling in Turkey should follow the advice of local authorities while remaining vigilant.
The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when Islamic State jihadists went on a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall.
From Sydney to Paris, Rio to London, security had been boosted over fears that the New Year festivities could present a target for violent extremists.
Turkey on alert
Security measures had already 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.
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,” Mr Bozdag said on Twitter.
Turkey has been on high alert after being the target of a number of recent attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Kurdish extremist groups.
On December 10, 44 people were killed in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match hosted by the top side Besiktas.
That attack, which targeted a police bus, was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) seen as a radical offshoot of the PKK.
In March, at least 37 people died in a bombing at a bus stop in Ankara, an attack that was claimed by Kurdish militant group TAK, and in June, a suicide bombing at Istanbul airport killed 45 people.