At least 39 people have been killed and 40 injured in a New Year’s Eve attack on a nightclub in central Istanbul, Turkish officials have said
“This is a terrorist attack,” city governor Vasip Sahin said at the scene outside one of the city’s best known clubs, in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighbourhood on the European bank of the Bosporus.
He said that at 1.15 a.m. on Sunday (2215 GMT Saturday) an attacker had forced his way into Club Reina, where between 700 and 800 people were reportedly celebrating, by shooting dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance.
“He then carried out this violent and cruel act by spraying bullets on innocent people who were celebrating the New Year,” Sahin said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu said efforts were continuing to find the attacker, who was believed to have acted alone.
At least 69 people were being treated in hospital, the minister added. Four were said to be in a serious condition.
Only 21 of the victims had been identified, Soylu said, adding that 15 or 16 of them were foreigners.
The fate of the attacker was not immediately clear and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The DHA news agency published footage taken from a CCTV camera outside the club showing a man shooting in the busy street, with one person appearing to get hit and fall.
The attacker, who appears to be dressed in black, then disappears inside the club.
DHA had earlier reported that two men dressed as Santa Claus had attacked the club, opening fire with automatic weapons. A witness quoted by the Hurriyet newspaper also said she had seen two attackers.
“Two people were shooting with weapons. Suddenly people started to run. My husband told me not to be afraid. He jumped on top of me. People ran over me. My man was shot in three places.”
Special forces then stormed the club.
The attack came just three weeks after more than 40 people were killed when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a football stadium also in the Besiktas district where the club is located.
Television footage from CNN Turk showed dozens of ambulances and police cars outside the club on Sunday.
“This is a malicious and treacherous attack against Turkey, our liberty, our unity, our brotherliness and against us all,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter.
“The fight against terrorism would continue to be carried out unflinchingly,” he added.
The White House condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and reaffirmed its support for Turkey in the fight against terrorism.
“2017 starts with an attack in Istanbul. Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini tweeted.
Security had been heightened in the city ahead of New Year’s celebrations, with a reported 17,000 police on patrol, over fears the city could be targeted by terrorists following a string of recent attacks.
But security services were concentrated elsewhere, on the central Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi avenue, a popular nightlife strip.