Wanted Istanbul terrorist ‘fought for IS in Syria’
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Wanted Istanbul terrorist ‘fought for IS in Syria’

Turkish media reports gunman was well-trained and ‘specially selected’ by Islamic State to carry out shooting rampage

This hand out picture released by the Turkish police and taken from Dogan News Agency on January 2, 2017 shows the main suspect in the Reina nightclub rampage one day after a gunman killed 39 people, including many foreigners, in an attack at an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year.  AFP/Dogan News Agency / Handout)
This hand out picture released by the Turkish police and taken from Dogan News Agency on January 2, 2017 shows the main suspect in the Reina nightclub rampage one day after a gunman killed 39 people, including many foreigners, in an attack at an upmarket nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year. AFP/Dogan News Agency / Handout)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkish authorities on Tuesday intensified efforts to identify and detain a suspected jihadist who killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub, and who reportedly fought in Syria alongside Islamic State jihadists.

Police released pictures of the suspect who went on the rampage at the plush Reina nightclub on New Year’s night, spraying some 120 bullets at terrified guests before slipping away into the night.

So far, 16 people are being held over the attack, including two foreigners detained by Turkish police at Istanbul’s main airport. But the killer remains on the run.

Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners, mainly from Arab countries, with coffins repatriated overnight to countries including Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

This image taken from CCTV shows the man identified by police as the main suspect in the 2017 New Year's Day terror attack at an Istanbul nightclub, earlier that night before the attack. (CCTV/Haberturk Newspaper via AP)
This image taken from CCTV shows the man identified by police as the main suspect in the 2017 New Year’s Day terror attack at an Istanbul nightclub, earlier that night before the attack. (CCTV/Haberturk Newspaper via AP)

The Islamic State (IS) group on Monday claimed the massacre, the first time it has clearly stated being behind a major attack in Turkey.

The suspect — who has not been named but was reportedly from Central Asia — was staying in a rented flat in Konya before moving to Istanbul to carry out the attack, press reports said.

The Dogan news agency said those detained included a woman suspected of being his wife with whom he had stayed in Konya along with two children.

Reports said police have made progress in the investigation after speaking to the taxi driver who drove the attacker to the club and tracing calls he had made on the driver’s mobile phone.

‘Specially selected’

The Hurriyet daily said the attacker 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 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.

“This specially-trained terrorist has still not been detained and is still wandering dangerously among us,” he wrote.

He said an IS strike was also planned in Ankara on New Year’s eve but that it had been prevented after eight IS suspects were arrested in the capital. There were no further details.

Pictures of victims of the New Year's Day attack on an Istanbul nightclub lie on Turkish national flags and flowers in front of the Reina nightclub on January 3, 2017 in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)
Pictures of victims of the New Year’s Day attack on an Istanbul nightclub lie on Turkish national flags and flowers in front of the Reina nightclub on January 3, 2017 in Istanbul. (AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic)

Near the entrance to the nightclub which lies on the shores of the Bosphorus, an impromptu shrine was set up with pictures of the dead where well-wishers have been piling up flowers.

“The attacker arrived at the door and opened fire towards me,” club manager Ali Unal told AFP.

“My foot slipped and I fell down, the gunshots didn’t stop.”

‘Taksim selfie video’

Police meanwhile released the first clear images of the attacker, including one taken by security cameras on the night of the attack.

And a chilling video of the suspect taken near Taksim Square in central Istanbul was also released, showing him recording himself with a selfie stick and smiling faintly into the camera.

It was not immediately clear how the footage had been obtained.

Reports said that the attacker could be from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. In Kyrgyzstan’s capital of Bishkek, the national security council said it was checking any possible involvement of a Kyrgyz citizen.

In a statement circulated on social media, IS said one of its “soldiers” had carried out the carnage, accusing Turkey — a majority-Muslim country — of being a servant of Christians and saying the shooting was a response to Ankara’s military action against jihadists in Syria.

Turkish troops are pressing a four-month incursion to oust IS jihadists the border area while Ankara is also pushing a ceasefire plan with Russia as a basis for peace talks to end the civil war.

After a cabinet meeting in Ankara chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the government vowed that the operation in Syria would continue with “determination.”

One day after a gunman killed 39 people, including many foreigners, in a rampage at the upmarket Reina nightclub where revellers were celebrating the New Year people walk by the venue, in Istanbul, on January 2, 2017. (AFP/YASIN AKGUL)
One day after a gunman killed 39 people, including many foreigners, in a rampage at the upmarket Reina nightclub where revellers were celebrating the New Year people walk by the venue, in Istanbul, on January 2, 2017. (AFP/YASIN AKGUL)

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.

The foreigners who died — most of them Muslims from Arab countries — had come to the club to celebrate a special night in style.

They included a 19-year-old Israeli girl, three Lebanese nationals, two Jordanians and three Iraqis, as well as several Saudis.

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