Turkey’s president vowed to “destroy threats” targeting the nation after a gunman opened fire inside a popular Istanbul nightclub, killing at least 39 people, including 15 foreigners — an act of terrorism that has become grimly familiar in Turkey.
The assailant escaped and a manhunt has been launched, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Sunday.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, the latest in a string of assaults that have multiplied as Turkey steps up its war against Islamic State and Kurdish militants. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the gunman left his rifle at the scene before fleeing.
The assailant killed a police officer guarding the entrance to the Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy entertainment district shortly after midnight, then raked the crowd of revelers with bullets, Soylu said in comments cited by state-run Anadolu Agency.
Health Minister Recep Akdag said 65 people were wounded, with four in critical condition, of the hundreds enjoying a New Year’s Eve celebration. Foreigners killed included seven Saudis, four Iraqis, two Indians, two Tunisians and others from Canada, Israel, Syria and Libya among others, DHA news agency said. One victim was an Israeli girl in her late teens, the government in Tel Aviv said.
The government has imposed a ban on broadcasting footage from the scene and any reporting that may compromise its investigation, a broadcasting watchdog said.
Turkey has suffered dozens of terrorist attacks in the past 18 months that have killed hundreds of people. The government has blamed Islamic State and Kurdish militant groups, which are both fighting Turkey’s military in Syria. Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was killed in Ankara on Dec. 19 in an assassination apparently linked to Syria’s civil war.
The identity of the organization behind the attack isn’t clear yet, Soylu said.
“We are aware that attacks targeting our country by various terrorist organizations are not independent from incidents in our region,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement. “We are determined to destroy threats and attacks toward our country at their origin.”
The U.S. condemned in the “strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack” and affirmed its support for its NATO ally, Ned Price, a National Security Council spokesman, said in emailed comments. President Barack Obama expressed condolences and offered assistance to the Turkish authorities, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said in an email. The European Union, France, Russia, Israel and Germany were among the governments that condemned the attack and extended support to Turkey.
“Extraordinary security measures had been taken in the past two weeks along the Bosporus coastal line with policemen on vigil for 24 hours at tents set up along the road,” Mehmet Kocarslan, owner of Reina club, said in a statement cited by NTV television.
Separately, police in Ankara detained eight people whom it said were members of Islamic State in the Turkish capital’s suburbs on Saturday, according to Anadolu Agency. The news organization said the militants were preparing an attack ahead of New Year’s Eve.
Turkey, which launched its biggest offensive into Syria in August to force Islamic State and Kurdish militants away from its border, has killed about 9,500 “terrorists” in the fighting, Defense Minister Fikri Isik told Anadolu Agency. Russia and Turkey announced on Dec. 29 that they’d brokered a cease-fire agreement in Syria that they hope will pave the way to a peace settlement ending six years of civil war.
“As the country and the nation, we will struggle with attacks by terrorist organizations and powers behind them as well as their economic, political and social attacks until the end,” Erdogan said.
(c) 2017, Bloomberg · Ercan Ersoy, Selcan Hacaoglu