Search For Killer Continues After Turkey Nightclub Attack Leaves 39 Dead, 69 Wounded
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
In Istanbul, people woke up to news that the new year began with another deadly attack on civilians. Officials say a gunman entered a nightclub and killed at least 39 people, including some 16 foreign nationals. Sixty-nine people were injured, some critically. A manhunt is now underway for the shooter, and NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul to give us an update. Hello, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: What can you tell us about the attack?
KENYON: Well, it happened in the early hours of this morning - New Year's Day. The nightclub was called Reina. It's an expensive, exclusive kind of place on the Bosporus Strait. Witnesses say there were several hundred people inside when the shooting began. Turkey's interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, says the preliminary assessment is that there was just one gunman. Here's a bit of what he said through an interpreter.
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SULEYMAN SOYLU: (Through interpreter) The evaluation of the security forces - the information we received from the police forces - showed that there's only attacker and not multiple attackers. Walked in with a gun and then inside changed the clothes and tried to walk out with different clothes. The attacker - the terrorist killer - we're still trying to catch the perpetrator.
KENYON: Now, there's a lot we still don't know. There's an unconfirmed account, for instance, that the attacker wore a Santa Claus costume. The interior minister did not confirm that. He just said there was a change of clothes involved before he left. We are getting some information about the victims now. The Turkish cabinet minister tells the state-run news agency that the foreign fatalities include people from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon and Libya. And the Israeli foreign ministry says a young Arab-Israeli woman is among the dead.
CHANG: What kind of precautions did security forces take for New Year's Eve there?
KENYON: Well, security was quite heavy. Turkish media say thousands of police were - tens of thousands of police were deployed just in Istanbul last night. In fact, there was a policeman at this nightclub at the entrance. He's believed to have been the first casualty of the attacker. Just down the road is the soccer stadium where there was a terrible bombing last month that killed dozens of people. Most of them were police. Turkish media are saying this policeman killed in front of the Reina nightclub survived that attack only to perish in this one.
CHANG: Are the authorities blaming any particular group for the attack?
KENYON: No. There's been no claim of responsibility. There was a presidential statement that mentioned developments in the region, which could be a reference to Syria or Iraq. There was a call recently on an Islamist website for lone wolf attacks against soft targets, just like clubs or theaters. The Turkish interior minister in his comments did name a few groups that might have been behind it, including Islamic State, including Kurdish militants - groups like the PKK TAK, as they're known. But again at this point, we really don't know, A, the motive of the attack or, B, if the killer is linked to any group.
CHANG: And what has been the reaction that you've heard to this attack so far?
KENYON: Well, international condemnations and condolences are pouring in. President Obama was among the early ones sending condolences. Several European leaders followed suit. Turks - they're mainly in shock, as you can imagine. I mean, 2016 was a terrible year here for terrorism. The stadium bombing I mentioned...
KENYON: There was also the Russian ambassador gunned down in Ankara last month.
CHANG: That's right.
KENYON: Last summer, 45 people killed at Istanbul's main airport. In January, a suicide bombing in the city's historic district and a series of attacks against the military and police here. And the government survived a military coup, which brought on a state of emergency that I would say now looks very likely to be extended later this month.
CHANG: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul - thank you so much, Peter.
KENYON: You're welcome, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.