Turkish anti-terror police have made their first arrests over the Reina nightclub attack in Istanbul that left 39 dead on Sunday, local media reported on Monday afternoon.
The attack shocked the nation, which has seen a spate of deadly shootings and bombings by terrorists affiliated with either Islamic State or Kurdish separatists.
The gunman, who fled the scene after shooting over 120 bullets at party-goers in the upscale waterfront club just 75 minutes after revelers had toasted the New Year, remains at large. The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attack on Monday.
According to the Dogan news agency, police had detained eight suspects on Monday. Dogan had no details about the detainees’ relationship to any suspected attacker.
The Hurriyet daily said investigators believe the gunman may be from the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan and may be linked to the same cell that in June carried out a triple suicide bombing and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport blamed on IS that left 47 people dead.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday that intense efforts were underway to find the gunman, and expressed hope that he would be captured soon.
Late on Sunday, police rushed to Istanbul’s Kurucesme district after a tip-off but the operation did not produce any arrest.
“The danger continues,” wrote columnist Abdulkadir Selvi in Hurriyet.
“So long as this terrorist is not seized we do not know when and where a massacre could take place.”
Turkey’s Interior Ministry said in a Monday statement that 147 people were detained in the past week after authorities determined “they were in contact with the Daesh terrorist organization,” referring to an Arabic acronym for IS.
Of the detained, 25 people have been formally put under arrest. These arrests do not appear directly linked to the Reina attack.
The official Anadolu news agency, citing unidentified Turkish justice ministry officials, said 38 of the 39 victims had been identified, and that 11 were Turkish nationals and one was a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen.
Seven victims were from Saudi Arabia; three were from Lebanon and Iraq each; two nationals were from Tunisia, India, Morocco and Jordan each. Kuwait, Canada, Israel, Syria and Russia each lost one citizen.
Sixty-nine people were wounded.
Relatives of the victims and embassy personnel were seen walking into an Istanbul morgue to claim the bodies of the deceased.
Turkish officials haven’t released the names of those identified.
Within a day of the attack, more than 100 Islamic State targets in Syria were hit by Turkey and Russia in separate operations, Anadolu reported.
Citing the Turkish Chief of General Staff’s office, Anadolu said Turkish jets struck eight IS group targets while tanks and artillery fired on 103 targets near Al Bab, killing 22 extremists and destroying many structures.
The report added that Russian jets also attacked IS targets in Dayr Kak, eight kilometers (five miles) to the southwest of Al Bab.
Turkey sent troops into neighboring northern Syria in August to clear a border area of IS militants and curb territorial advances by Syrian Kurdish forces.
The IS-linked Aamaq News Agency said Monday the New Year’s attack was carried by a “heroic soldier of the caliphate who attacked the most famous nightclub where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast.”
It said the man opened fire with an automatic rifle in “revenge for God’s religion and in response to the orders” of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The group described Turkey as “the servant of the cross,” an apparent reference to Turkey’s participation in a loose-knit anti-IS coalition battling the group in Syria.