Manhunt Underway After Istanbul Gun Attack Leaves 39 Dead

ISTANBUL, (Reuters) -
Turkish police stand guard on a road leading to the club that was attacked by a gunman, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday. (Reuters/Umit Bektas)

Police in Istanbul launched a manhunt on Sunday for a gunman who killed at least 39 people, many of them foreigners, at a busy club, in an attack officials described as a terrorist act.

The gunman shot his way into the club at around 1:15 a.m., killing a police officer and a civilian as he entered before opening fire at random inside.

Some witnesses spoke of multiple attackers, but officials have not confirmed this.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 15 or 16 of those killed were foreigners but only 21 bodies had so far been identified. He told reporters 69 people were in hospital, four of them in critical condition.

“A manhunt for the terrorist is underway,” he said.

Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel and Belgium were among those killed, officials said. France said three of its citizens were wounded.

The attack again shook Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on the Islamic State terror group and others claimed by Kurdish terrorists.

The club overlooks the Bosphorus Strait separating Europe and Asia in the city’s cosmopolitan Ortakoy district.

Around 500 to 600 people were thought to have been inside the club when the gunman opened fire, broadcaster CNN Turk said. Some jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus to save themselves and were rescued by police.

Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said the attacker had used a “long-range weapon” to “brutally and savagely” fire on people, apparently referring to some sort of assault rifle.

Sahin and Soylu both referred to a single attacker, but other reports, including on social media, suggested there may have been more, at least one of them wearing a costume which he later ditched in order to escape.

The Hurriyet newspaper cited witnesses as saying there were multiple attackers and that they shouted in Arabic.

Hurriyet quoted the club’s owner as saying security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after U.S. intelligence reports suggested a possible attack.

Turkey, a NATO member and part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, faces multiple security threats including a spillover from the war in neighboring Syria.

Police secure the area as Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu leaves after visiting an Istanbul club, following a gun attack, Sunday. (Reuters/Osman Orsal)

It launched a military incursion into Syria in August against the radical Islamist group and is also fighting a Kurdish militant insurgency in its own southeast.

The latest attack came five months after Turkey was shaken by a failed military coup, in which more than 240 people were killed, many of them in Istanbul, as rogue soldiers commandeered tanks and fighter jets in a bid to seize power.

Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, has seen several attacks this year, the latest on Dec. 10, when two bombs claimed by Kurdish terrorists exploded outside a stadium, killing 44 people and wounding more than 150.

In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three suspected Islamic State terrorists carried out a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul’s main Ataturk airport.