The terrorist who killed 39 people in an Istanbul club on Sunday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State terror group appears to have been well versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria, a newspaper report and a security source said on Tuesday.
The terrorist, who remains at large, shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance to the venue. He then opened fire with an automatic rifle inside, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground.
In a statement claiming the attack on Monday, Islamic State described the club as a gathering point for Christians and said the shooting was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.
“The assailant has experience in combat for sure … he could have been fighting in Syria for years,” one security source told Reuters, saying that he was likely to have been directed in his actions by the terror group.
The Haberturk newspaper said police investigations had revealed that the terrorist had entered Turkey from Syria and went to the central city of Konya in November, traveling with his wife and two children so as not to attract attention.
CNN Turk said he was believed to be of Kyrgyz origin. Kyrgyzstan’s security service said it was in touch with Turkish authorities and checking the reports, without giving further details.
Turkish officials have not commented on the details of the investigation. But government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that the authorities were close to fully identifying the terrorist, after gathering fingerprints and information on his appearance, and had detained eight other people.
A selfie video of the alleged terrorist, apparently walking around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, was broadcast by Turkish news channels on Tuesday as police operations to try to track him down continued.
Kurtulmus made no reference to the Islamic State claim of responsibility on Monday but said it was clear Turkey’s military operations in Syria had annoyed terrorist groups and those behind them. NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State terror group and since August has been conducting military operations inside Syria to drive the radical Sunni terrorists, as well as Kurdish terrorists, away from its borders.
Islamic State has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months; but, other than assassinations, it was the first time it has directly claimed any of them.
Haberturk cited a man at the club as saying the terrorist had thrown explosive devices several times during the shooting spree, apparently in order to disorient people and give himself time to reload. Several witnesses who spoke to Reuters also said there had been small explosions during the attack.