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Turkish Authorities Continue Search For Istanbul Nightclub Attacker


Turkish authorities are still looking for the suspect in the shooting at an Istanbul nightclub early Sunday morning. Thirty-nine people died. ISIS claimed responsibility and called the attacker one of its soldiers. Today, officials detained two foreigners for questioning in Istanbul's main airport. In all, at least 16 people have been held.

Joining us from Istanbul with the latest is NPR's Peter Kenyon. Hi, Peter.


SHAPIRO: This attack happened almost three days ago. What leads do they have on the suspect?

KENYON: Well there's intriguing bits of information that keep coming out. One new development today - a report in the Hurriyet newspaper that police had detained a woman in the town of Konya that's down in central Turkey. She's described as the wife of the man police believe may have been the gunman.

According to the paper, she told police she and her husband crossed into Turkey in November. She says her husband never expressed any sympathy for ISIS that she knows of. And on these latest detentions, the two foreign men were stopped at Ataturk Airport after their bags and phones were searched. We get that from the state-run Anatolia news agency and no other details about them so far.

SHAPIRO: There's also been some confusion today about a passport that may have belonged to the gunman. What happened there?

KENYON: That's right. This morning, two Turkish media outlets posted images of a passport issued by the Central Asian country of Kurdistan. The photo in the passport does seem similar to the man in a selfie video that's been circulating since yesterday on Turkish media, and that's supposed to be the suspected gunman, although even that's not confirmed.

But then later on in the day, the media withdrew that passport image. The police denied any connection to the attack, so that seems to have been a false alarm.

SHAPIRO: How are people in Turkey responding to this - a major manhunt, 39 people dead, a suspect potentially on the loose?

KENYON: Yeah, it's a very difficult time. And the government has been repeatedly calling for people to show solidarity, stand together against these terrorist attacks. And of course there has been great sympathy for the families of the victims. But as for unity, there's really not too much of that.

You know, immediately after the attack, there was an online debate that just erupted over this campaign that had run in the previous weeks, a conservative campaign telling Turks, ignore New Year's Eve; just focus on Muslim holidays. So obviously there's still social divisions.

And politically - no unity there, either. The opposition party head says, the ruling party's failed to stop terrorism; they should resign. Now, this party's pretty weak. They can't really do too much to the ruling AK Party right now. But it is a time of great stress and tension, and lawmakers are just about to start debating big constitutional changes giving a lot of power to the president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And yet there's really not this kind of unity the government's seeking.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Peter Kenyon on the latest on the investigation into that shooting in an Istanbul nightclub over the New Year's holiday. Thank you, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO SONG, "GYPSY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.