ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — The man suspected of killing 39 people, including an Israeli, at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve has claimed he received the order to attack from Islamic State jihadists in Syria, local media reported Wednesday.
Turkish authorities on Monday detained Abdulgadir Masharipov, 34, who spent 17 days on the run following the attack which was claimed by the extremist group. They also arrested an Iraqi man and three women from Egypt, Senegal and Somalia.
Officials identified him as an Uzbek national who trained in Afghanistan, saying he confessed to carrying out the attack and that his fingerprints matched those of the attacker at the scene.
Using the code name Ebu Muhammed Horasani, the man told police he entered Turkey through Iran in January 2016 and moved to the central city of Konya, the Hurriyet newspaper reported.
“When I was in Konya, an order came from (the Syrian city of) Raqa for me to carry out an attack in Taksim” Square in Istanbul, he told Turkish police. Raqa is the self-declared capital of IS in Syria.
He moved to Istanbul on December 16 and scouted out a suitable place to attack.
“I arrived at Taksim on New Year’s Eve but there were very intensive (security) measures. It was not possible to carry out an attack,” he said.
“I re-established contact with the person who gave me the order and we agreed that Taksim was not suitable for an attack. I was ordered to scout a new target in the area.”
Green light from Syria
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday hailed the police as “farsighted” for their nationwide hunt for the killer involving around 1,000 officers.
And Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the authorities had used every means available from cameras to digital data in order to trace the gunman in comments published by the official Anadolu news agency.
Images initially released by police during the hunt were taken from a chilling silent video he purportedly took in the square with a selfie stick, before carrying out the bloodbath.
The suspect said he later took a taxi for a tour along the shores of the Bosphorus at around 1900 GMT when he spotted the Reina nightclub.
“It didn’t look like security measures were high. I explained the situation to the person who gave me the order and told him that Reina was suitable.
“He agreed and asked me to carry out the attack at Reina,” the man told police, according to Hurriyet.
After getting the green light from an unnamed IS jihadist in Syria, the suspect said he took a taxi to Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu neighborhood, picked up the weapon from home and came back to attack the club.
Lian Zaher Nasser, 19, from Tira in central Israel was one of those killed in the club, where she was celebrating the New Year with friends.
Police detain 27 suspects
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said he hoped the man’s capture would expose forces behind him.
“We are hoping to reveal all the details of who the main force is behind him, who guided the assailant or assailants to go there,” he said, quoted by Anadolu.
Turkish police on Wednesday detained 27 suspects as well as 29 children, in anti-IS raids targeting seven addresses in the northwestern city of Bursa, Anadolu reported.
The suspects are believed to have links to the Reina attack, it added.
The carnage at the elite club, just 75 minutes into 2017, shook Turkey which had already been on edge after a string of attacks in 2016 blamed on Kurdish militants and jihadists.