Turkish authorities on Tuesday detained two foreign nationals at Istanbul’s main airport over suspected links to a nightclub attack claimed by Islamic State jihadists that killed 39, Dogan news agency said.
The pair were detained on entering Ataturk International Airport and have been taken to Istanbul police headquarters for questioning, it added.
The government said Monday that eight people had been detained but the number then increased to 14 after new detentions in the Anatolian city of Konya.
The main suspect, who remains at large, was staying in a rented flat in Konya before moving to Istanbul to carry out the attack, press reports said.
He has not been named but is reportedly from Central Asia.
Earlier reports had misidentified the suspect as a 28-year-old from Kyrgyzstan who entered Turkey in November.
The reports came as Turkish authorities intensified their hunt for the attacker who killed 39, including an Israeli teen, during a rampage at the swanky Reina nightclub during a New Years party in Istanbul early Sunday.
The Islamic State group on Monday claimed the massacre, the first time it has clearly said it was behind a major attack in Turkey.
Several media outlets on Monday, citing unnamed security sources, said the suspect was believed to be from a Central Asian nation and may have been part of the same cell that staged a June attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed 45 people.
Haber Turk newspaper on Tuesday said the man was thought to be a member of China’s Muslim Uighur minority. Without citing a source, the newspaper said he had arrived in the Turkish city of Konya with his wife and two children in order not to raise suspicions. His family members were detained, the newspaper said.
The Dogan news agency also said the arrested included a woman suspected of being the gunman’s wife but gave no further details.
The nightclub assailant, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian in the early hours of 2017 outside the Reina club before entering and firing at some of the estimated 600 people inside. The establishment is frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and athletes.
Turkish media on Tuesday also ran a “selfie video” of the alleged attacker.
The video broadcast on Turkish television shows the alleged gunman filming himself with a cellphone at Istanbul’s Taksim square. It wasn’t immediately clear if it was filmed before or after the New Year’s massacre at the Reina nightclub.
No details have been released as to why the authorities might think the man on the video is a suspect in New Year’s attack, or how the footage was obtained.
The Hurriyet daily said the terrorist showed signs of being well trained in the use of arms and had fought in Syria for IS jihadists.
Hurriyet’s well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi said the attacker had been identified, with investigators focusing on the idea he was from Central Asia.
Selvi said he had been trained in street fighting in residential areas in Syria and used these techniques in the attack, shooting from the hip rather than as a sniper.
The attacker had been “specially selected” to carry out the shooting, he said. According to Hurriyet, just 28 bullets failed to hit a target.
Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the authorities had obtained fingerprint data about the gunman and expressed hope he would be “speedily” identified.
Selvi wrote that the priority now was to detain the assailant and neutralize the cell that apparently backed him, in order to prevent any new attack.
“This specially trained terrorist has still not been detained and is still wandering dangerously among us,” he wrote.
He said that an IS strike was also planned in Ankara on New Year’s night but that it had been prevented after eight IS suspects were arrested in the capital. There were no further details.
In a statement circulated on social media, the jihadist group said one of the “soldiers of the caliphate” had carried out the Reina shooting.
It accused Turkey, a majority-Muslim country, of being a servant of Christians and the attack was in response to Turkey’s military intervention against the jihadists in war-ravaged Syria.
Turkish troops are pressing on with a four-month incursion to oust IS jihadists the border area while Turkey is also spearheading a ceasefire plan with Russia to form a basis for peace talks on Syria.
The shooting took place just 75 minutes into 2017 after a bloody year in Turkey in which hundreds of people were killed in violence blamed on both IS jihadists and Kurdish militants.
After a cabinet meeting in Ankara chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government vowed that the operation in Syria, dubbed Euphrates Shield, would continue with “determination.”
The foreigners who died — most of them from Arab countries and including Muslims — had come to the club to celebrate a special night in style.
They included 19-year-old Lian Zaher Nasser from the Israeli-Arab town of Tira, who was buried in Israel Tuesday morning. Another Israeli woman who was with her was injured in the attack.
The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when IS jihadists unleashed a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall.
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