ISTANBUL — Thirty-nine people were killed Saturday in an armed attack on an Istanbul nightclub where locals were celebrating the New Year.
Istanbul’s governor Vasip Sahin described the rampage as a “terror attack.”
“Unfortunately, at least 35 of our citizens lost their lives. One was a police officer,” Sahin told reporters at the scene of the attack, the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortakoy district by the Bosphorus on the city’s European shore. The death toll was later raised to 39.
“Forty people are receiving treatment in hospitals,” he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Reports conflicted as to the number of gunmen. The Dogan news agency and other local media referred initially to two shooters who had entered the venue, while officials said there was just one.
Witnesses said the gunman was dressed as Santa Claus.
Many party-goers threw themselves into the Bosphorus in panic after the shooting began, and rescue efforts were in progress to save them from the waters, the private NTV television network said.
Sinem Uyanik was inside the club with her husband who was wounded in the attack.
“Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said outside Istanbul’s Sisli Etfal Hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.” Her husband was not in serious condition despite sustaining three wounds.
Police in riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicle blocked the area close to the Reina club, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul, in heavy rain. Several ambulances flashing blue lights arrived on the scene, some taking wounded to Istanbul hospitals.
Sahin, who spoke of a single gunman, said he had used a long-barreled firearm in the attack. “Unfortunately [he] rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year’s and have fun,” he told reporters.
Dogan reported that some witnesses claimed the attacker was “speaking Arabic,” while NTV said police special forces were searching the nightclub for at least one gunman. If there was a second, there was no word as to his fate or whereabouts.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups.
“Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror,” Bozdag said on Twitter.
Turkish authorities have imposed a ban on reporting about details of the attack within Turkey.
The nightclub is one of the most selective spots in the city, and getting inside past the bouncers who seek out only the best dressed is notoriously hard. According to Dogan, there were at least 700 revelers at the club celebrating the start of 2017 after a bloody 2016 in Turkey.
The attack came less than a month after twin blasts outside the Istanbul stadium of top Turkish team Besiktas on December 10 killed 44 people. That attack was claimed by Kurdish separatists.
The city suffered multiple terror attacks last year at the hands of Islamic State jihadists and Kurdish rebels, resulting in some 180 dead.
Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, the state news agency Anadolu reported.