An assailant 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 1:15 a.m. Sunday before entering and firing on people partying inside.
“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.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the gunman was still on the run, adding: “efforts to find the terrorist are continuing.”
“Our security forces have started the necessary operations,” the minister said. “God willing he will be caught in a short period of time.”
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.
An estimated 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is also frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. A handful of WNBA players, including Essence Carson, Chelsea Gray and Jantel Lavender of the Los Angeles Sparks, were next door to the club when the shooting erupted.
Some clubgoers reportedly jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack.
‘A truly inhuman savagery’
At least 15 of the dead were foreign nationals, Soylu said. Five of the victims were identified as Turkish nationals, and three or four of the Turkish victims may have been employees at the nightclub.
A 22-year-old police officer, Burak Yildiz, was shot and killed outside the nightclub. He had been on the force for just over one year.
Private Dogan news agency reports that 47-year-old travel agent Ayhan Arik, a father of two, was another of the first victims of the early morning attack. The news agency says the gunman shot Arik in the head outside the club.
CCTV footage released by police appears to show the attacker shooting his way into the nightclub.
New footage of the Istanbul nightclub attacker as he starts shooting his way into the club. pic.twitter.com/XSBMnaz9GY
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) January 1, 2017