The armed man who killed at least 39 people in an attack on Turkish nightclub- goers was dressed as Father Christmas, witnesses have said.
At least one gunman entered the upmarket Reina nightclub in Istanbul at around 1.30am local time on New Year’s Day as hundreds of people were celebrating the start of 2017. The attacker is believed to have shot at police outside the nightclub, killing one officer, before entering and firing on people inside. Some customers jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus strait to escape the massacre. The attack resulted in 39 people dead, including 15 foreigners, which reportedly include nationals of Lebanon, Morocco, Libya and Saudi Arabia, and a further 40 injured, some described as “critical”, according to Istanbul’s governor, Vasip Sahin.
Turkish media released CCTV footage appearing to show one of the men suspected of launching the attack inside the club, wearing a Santa costume. It is not clear what purpose the outfit served or any of the other motives behind the attack.
Mr Sahin described the shooting as a terrorist attack without making any comment on who might have carried it out. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
“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,” Mr Sahin said.
Despite there being no official statement about who might be behind this brutal attack, the finger of blame is being pointed at the so-called Islamic State.
In the last two years of attacks in Turkey, Kurdish militants have mostly targeted military forces and police, while IS is known to target civilians. IS leaders have threatened Turkey and called on their followers to carry out attacks inside the country. Turkey began a ground operation against IS as well as Kurdish groups inside Syria four months ago.
In a statement, President Erdogan condemned those trying to “demoralise our people and create chaos with abominable attacks which target civilians”.
“We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”
US President Barack Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii, was among the first international leaders to make a statement after being briefed by his team. “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,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.
After a year that has seen a run of deadly attacks in Turkey, security was tight across Istanbul and other major cities on New Year’s Eve. Around 17,000 officers were on duty in the city, some of whom were themselves disguised as Santa Claus, according to the Anadolu news agency.