Dozens killed in Istanbul nightclub attack

2017-01-01 07:16
People leave as medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul. (IHA via AP)

People leave as medics and security officials work at the scene after an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul. (IHA via AP)

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Istanbul - At least 35 people were killed when a gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus stormed an Istanbul nightclub as revellers were celebrating 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, Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said, describing it as a "terror" attack.

"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," he said.

At least 35 people died while 40 people were being treated in hospital, Sahin told reporters at the scene on the banks of the Bosphorus.

Panic

Many 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.

Television pictures showed party-goers - including men in suits and women in cocktail dresses - emerging from the nightclub in a state of shock.

Sahin said the attack began at 01:15 on Sunday (22:15 GMT), just after hundreds of Turkish and foreign revellers had seen in the New Year at the club in the Ortakoy district on the European side of the city.

"What happened today is a terror attack," he said, without attributing blame or disclosing the fate of the attacker.

Dogan reported that some witnesses claimed the assailants were "speaking Arabic" while NTV said special force police officers were still searching the club.

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.

Security high

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.

In Istanbul, at least 17 000 police officers were deployed and some, as is customary in Turkey, dressed themselves as Santa Claus as cover, according to television reports.

"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," professional footballer Sefa Boydas told AFP.

"They say 35 to 40 died but it's probably more because when I was walking, people were walking on top of people."

Dogan said there were at least 700 revellers at the club. It is one of Istanbul's most elite spots, and getting past the bouncers who seek out only the best dressed is notoriously hard.

Turkey has been hit by a wave of attacks in recent months blamed on Kurdish militants and IS jihadists.

On December 10, 44 people were killed in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match hosted by top side Besiktas, an attack claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) seen as a radical offshoot of the PKK.

In June, 47 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport, with authorities blaming IS.

And in one of the most brazen strikes, an off-duty policeman assassinated Russia's ambassador to Turkey in an Ankara art gallery less than two weeks ago.


Read more on:    turkey  |  security

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