In Istanbul, there had been an attack by an assailant who was said to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume where he opened fire at a crowded nightclub in Istanbul during New Year’s celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding close to 70 others in what the province’s governor described as a terror attack.
Gov. Vasip Sahin said the attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club at around 1:45 a.m. Sunday before entering and firing on people partying inside. He did not say who may have carried out the attack.
“Unfortunately (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year’s and have fun,” Sahin told reporters.
Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the Reina nightclub, in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the man was still on the run, adding: “efforts to find the terrorist are continuing.”
“Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time,” the minister said.
At least 16 of the dead were foreign nationals, Soylu said, without providing information on their nationalities. Five of the victims were identified as Turkish nationals while authorities were still trying to identify 18 of the victims. At least 69 people were being treated in hospitals, four in serious condition, Soylu said.
Some customers jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack, the report said. Sinem Uyanik was inside the club with her husband who was wounded in the attack.
“Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said outside Istanbul’s Sisli Etfal Hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.” Her husband was not in serious condition despite sustaining three wounds.
Police with riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicles blocked the area close to the Reina nightclub, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul. Several ambulances flashing blue lights arrived on the scene, some taking wounded to hospitals.
The White House called the incident a “horrific terrorist attack” and offered U.S. help to Turkey.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation developed.
“Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies,” European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted.
An estimated 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is also frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack and the music fell silent. Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups.
“Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror,” Bozdag said on Twitter.
Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported.