Islamic State claims Istanbul attack,
gunman remains at large
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[January 02, 2017]
CAIRO/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Islamic
State claimed responsibility on Monday for a New Year's Day mass
shooting in a packed Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, an attack
carried out by a lone gunman who remains at large.
It described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks
were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their
"apostate holiday". The attack, it said, was revenge for Turkish
military involvement in Syria.
"The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims
shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God's permission,
ignite a fire in their own land," the Islamic State declaration said.
There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials.
The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on
civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months but, other than
targeted assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed
any of them. It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a
method used after attacks elsewhere.
NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic
State and launched an incursion into neighboring Syria in August to
drive the radical Sunni militants from its borders, sending in tanks and
special forces backed by fighter jets.
Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel, India, a
Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among
those killed at the exclusive nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus
waterway. Twenty-five of the dead were foreigners, according to the
state-run Anadolu news agency.
Police distributed a hazy black-and-white photo of the alleged gunman
taken from security footage. State broadcaster TRT Haber said eight
people had been detained in Istanbul.
The authorities believe the attacker may be from a Central Asian nation
and suspect he had links to Islamic State, the Hurriyet newspaper said.
It said he may be from the same cell responsible for a gun-and-bomb
attack on Istanbul's main airport in June, in which 45 people were
killed and hundreds wounded.
The attack at Reina, popular with Turkish celebrities and wealthy
visitors, shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup
and a series of deadly bombings in Istanbul and elsewhere, some blamed
on Islamic State, others claimed by Kurdish militants.
Around 600 people were thought to be inside when the gunman shot dead a
policeman and civilian at the door, forcing his way in then opening fire
with an automatic assault rifle. Witnesses said he shouted "Allahu
Akbar" (God is Greatest).
Some at the club jumped into the Bosphorus after the attacker began
shooting at random just over an hour into the new year. Witnesses
described diving under tables as he walked around spraying bullets.
KALASHNIKOV IN SUITCASE
The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern
Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got
out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub,
newspaper Haberturk said.
He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road,
opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after
entering, Haberturk said, without citing its sources. It said six empty
magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have
fired at least 180 bullets.
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Men lay flowers outisde the Reina nightclub by the Bosphorus, which
was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul, Turkey, January 1, 2017.
Security services had been on alert across Europe for new year
celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that
killed 12 people. Only days ago, an online message from a pro-Islamic
State group called for attacks by "lone wolves" on "celebrations,
gatherings and clubs".
In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan
said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country.
Four months into its operation in Syria, the Turkish army and the
rebels it backs are besieging the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.
Erdogan has said he wants them to continue to Raqqa, the jihadists'
Turkey has also been cracking down on Islamic State networks at
home. In counter-terrorism operations between Dec 26-Jan 2, Turkish
police detained 147 people over links to the group and formally
arrested 25 of them, the interior ministry said.
The New Year's Day attack came five months after a failed military
coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in
Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a
bid to seize power.
More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police officers,
have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by
Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the
effectiveness of Turkey's security apparatus.
The government says the purges will make the military, police and
other institutions more disciplined and effective.
Turkey has seen repeated attacks in recent weeks. On Dec. 10, two
bombs claimed by Kurdish militants exploded outside a soccer stadium
in Istanbul, killing 44 people. A security guard who survived that
attack was killed at Reina.
A car bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it ripped
through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central
city of Kayseri a week later, an attack Erdogan also blamed on
Islamic State's Amaq website said the group was behind a car bomb
attack that killed 11 people and wounded 100 in the city of
Diyarbakir in November, but Turkish authorities denied this and said
Kurdish militants carried out the attack.
The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead as he gave a speech
in Ankara on Dec. 19 by an off-duty police officer who shouted
"Don't forget Aleppo" and "Allahu Akbar".
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Editing by
Giles Elgood and Ralph Boulton)
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