39 killed, 69 injured, including 16 foreign nationals
As many as 39 people, including 16 foreigners, were killed when a gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus stormed an Istanbul club as revellers were celebrating the New Year, the latest carnage to rock Turkey after a bloody 2016.
The assailant shot dead a policeman and a civilian at the entrance to the Reina club, one of the city’s most exclusive nightspots, and then went on a shooting rampage inside, Turkish officials said.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the attacker escaped and was now the target of a major manhunt, expressing hope the suspect “would be captured soon”.
Soylu said in televised comments that of 21 victims who have been identified so far, 16 are foreigners and five are Turks. Another 69 people are being treated in hospital.
“The attacker — in the most brutal and merciless way — targeted innocent people who had only come here to celebrate the New Year and have fun,” Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said at the scene on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Many revellers threw themselves into the water in panic and efforts were under way to rescue them, NTV television said.
Dogan news agency said there were two gunmen dressed in Santa Claus outfits, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Erdogan says the attack sought to create chaos
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday’s attack sought to create chaos in Turkey.
“They are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos by deliberately targeting our nation’s peace and targeting civilians with these heinous attacks,” Erdogan said in a statement on the presidency website.
The attack began just over an hour into the New Year. It comes after a bloody 2016 after Turkey suffered a string of terror attacks in Istanbul and elsewhere at the hands of Kurdish militants and Islamic State extremists, leaving hundreds dead.
But Erdogan vowed that Turkey would continue its fight against terrorism.
“Turkey is determined to continue to fight to the end against terror and to do whatever is necessary to ensure the security of its citizens and secure peace in the region,” he said.
He added that Turkey would deploy any means, from military, economic and political to social, against “terror organisations” and the countries supporting them, without giving details on which groups or nations he was referring to.
At least 16 foreigners among those killed: minister
At least 16 foreigners were among the 39 killed in attack, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday.
Soylu said in televised comments that of 21 victims who have been identified so far, 16 are foreigners and five are Turks. Another 69 people are being treated in hospital for their wounds.
He confirmed that work was continuing to identify 18 other victims. Four of the wounded are in a serious condition, he added, including one in a very critical condition.
‘We walked on top of people’: Istanbul attack witness
One of the revellers at the Istanbul nightclub which came under attack during New Year celebrations described the chaos and panic as people tried to escape a gunman intent on killing as many as possible.
Professional footballer Sefa Boydas told media how several people fainted after they heard gunshots while people walked on top of one another to escape the elite Reina club on the European side of the city.
Boydas said he had only been in the club with two friends for about 10 minutes before he heard gunshots and his friend collapsed in shock.
“Just as we were settling down, by the door there was a lot of dust and smoke. Gunshots rang out. When those sounds were heard, many girls fainted.”
He said that people appeared to be crushed as they ran away from the attacker.
“They say 35 to 40 died but it’s probably more because when I was walking, people were walking on top of people,” said Boydas, who plays full time for Istanbul club Beylerbeyi SK.
Boydas initially tried to escape holding his friend but upon seeing her older sister faint, the footballer said his friend also passed out.
He described the screams which he said drowned out anything said by the attackers.
There has been condemnation from across the world.
President Barack Obama expressed condolences for the attack and directed his team to offer US help to Turkish authorities, the White House 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,” Eric Schultz, White House spokesman, said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said it was “hard to imagine a more cynical crime” and Pope Francis said he was praying for the victims.