An Israeli woman who survived the New Year’s terror attack in an Istanbul nightclub said Sunday that the gunman shouted “Allahu akbar” as he opened fire and “cruelly” cut down dozens of people. Turkish police were still hunting for the attacker on Sunday evening as the death toll reached 39 with 40 more wounded. Arab-Israeli 19-year-old Lian Zaher Nasser, from the city of Tira, was among those killed.
Dr. Ayia Ihsan Abd al-Hay, a dentist, was one of a group of four Israeli women who were in the club. She told Israel’s Channel 2 News in Istanbul on Sunday that Nasser worked for her as a dental technician and that she was devastated by her death.
She said the gunman “shouted Allahu Akbar” as he opened fire, that she couldn’t identify his accent, and that his actions were “so cruel.”
Abd al-Hay said the group had not been scared to come to Turkey for a New Year’s vacation, despite the potential for terror attacks. “We weren’t afraid,” she said.
It was “the biggest blow that we lost our best friend… I’m so devastated,” she said. “She worked with me. I don’t know what to do now.”
Abd al-Hay said another member of their group, named by Israeli authorities as Ro’a Mansour, was shot in the hand and leg; Mansour is in moderate condition. She said others, like her, were not hurt at all. “We were lucky,” she said.
“Almost,” prompted the interviewer. “Yes,” she said sadly.
She said the gunfire started at 1.30 am, and “at first we thought a fight had broken out.” Then “somebody shouted to us to get on the floor… I stayed down; there were dead people in front of me and behind me. I crawled into the kitchen,” she said, and hid near a fridge. The gunfire continued for long minutes, she said.
“We kept at silent as we could, so they wouldn’t find us. They were searching all the time.”
Abd al-Hay said the group would be flying home from Turkey later on Sunday, having cut short the trip, which was intended to last until Thursday.
Nasser’s father Zaher told the Walla news website that he had urged his daughter not to travel to Turkey, citing the uptick in terror attacks in the country.
“She insisted on going because her friends were going,” he said. Before losing contact with Lian, Nasser said his daughter “managed to send us a few photos from there and she told us how cold she was.”
Sufjan Mansour, Ro’a’s father, told the Haaretz daily Sunday morning that after hearing of the attack he was unable to get in touch with Ro’a, “but at six in the morning she answered [her phone] and said that she had been injured from gunfire in her lower body, and that she had been operated on and is now in the hospital in stable condition.”
Nasser and Mansour were together at the club with Abd al-Hay and a fourth woman, Ella Tariq Abd al-Hay, 27, all from the city of Tira in central Israel.
Another of the women spoke with Channel 2 following the attack, telling the TV station: “I did not see what happened, but I heard the gunshots. We were very close.”