39 dead, 65 wounded in Istanbul nightclub attack, gunman sought

Published: Dec. 31, 2016 at 7:00 PM CST
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The gunman who opened fire inside a crowded nightclub in Istanbul killing 39 and wounding 65 Sunday morning escaped by "taking advantage of the chaos," according to Turkey's prime minister.

The suspect killed a security guard and a civilian outside the venue before entering and firing on New Year's revelers inside. "Efforts to find the terrorist are continuing," said Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. "God willing he will be caught in a short period of time. This was a massacre, a truly inhuman savagery."

Turkey's state-run news agency says 24 of those killed were citizens of other countries. Authorities still are trying to identify four of the victims.

The assailant entered the Reina club around 1:15 a.m. "He then carried out this violent and cruel act by spraying bullets on innocent people who were celebrating the New Year," said Istanbul's Gov. Vasip Sahin.

It was initially reported that he was dressed as Santa Claus, but Prime Minister Binali Yildrim said that report was incorrect. "There is no truth to this. He is an armed terrorist as we know it." Outside surveillance video showed the gunman wearing a Santa Claus hat for part of the attack. He was dressed in black and carried a backpack. Footage taken by a different camera shows him inside the club wearing different clothes and the Santa hat.

Yildirim said the attacker left his gun in the club and fled. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Sinem Uyanik saw several bodies inside the club. Her husband Lutfu Uyanik was wounded, though not seriously. "Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me. I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out."

Reina owner Mehmet Kocarslan said police had boosted security measures in the upscale neighborhood of Ortakoy and its vicinity. "Despite all these precautions by police forces, unfortunately this painful event took place. We don't know what to say. We are at the point where all words end."

The White House is condemning what it calls a "horrific terrorist attack" and is offering help to Turkey. White House spokesman Eric Schultz says President Obama was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation develops. Mr. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii with his family. White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says the attack on "innocent revelers" celebrating New Year's shows the attackers' savagery. He says the U.S. sends thoughts and prayers to the relatives of those killed. Price says the U.S. supports its NATO ally Turkey as both countries fight terrorism.

Both Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey's capital, have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by ISIS or by Kurdish rebels, killing more than 180 people.

On December 10th, a pair of bombings in Istanbul killed 44 people, including 37 police officers, and wounded 155 others. The two explosions occurred after a heavily attended soccer game at Besiktas Vodafone Arena. On December 17th, a car bomb exploded near a public bus, killing 13 soldiers in the central province of Kayseri. Three days later, a gunman assassinated Russia's ambassador to Turkey at an Ankara art gallery.