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Sun 1 Jan 2017 02:50 PM

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Manhunt under way after 39 killed in Istanbul nightclub attack

Some people jumped into the Bosphorus waters to save themselves after the attacker opened fire at random in the Reina nightclub

Manhunt under way after 39 killed in Istanbul nightclub attack
Forensic officers (unseen) work inside the Reina night club, one of the Istanbuls most exclusive party spots, early on January 1, 2017 after at least one gunmen went on a shooting rampage during New Years Eve celebrations. Thirty-nine people, including many foreigners, were killed when a gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus stormed an Istanbul nightclub as revellers were celebrating the New Year, the latest carnage to rock Turkey after a bloody 2016. (Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

A gunman opened fire on New Year revellers at a packed
nightclub on the shores of Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway on Sunday killing at
least 39 people, including many foreigners, then fled the scene.

Some people jumped into the Bosphorus waters to save
themselves after the attacker opened fire at random in the Reina nightclub just
over an hour into the new year. Officials spoke of a single attacker but some
reports, including on social media, suggested there may have been more.

The attack shook NATO member 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 ISIL and others claimed by
Kurdish militants.

Security services had been on alert across Europe for new
year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that
killed 12 people. Only days ago, an online message from a pro-ISIL group called
for attacks by "lone wolves" on "celebrations, gatherings and

The Hurriyet newspaper cited witnesses as saying the
attackers shouted in Arabic as they opened fire at Reina.

"We were having fun. All of a sudden people started to
run. My husband said don't be afraid, and he jumped on me. People ran over me.
My husband was hit in three places," one club-goer, Sinem Uyanik, told the

"I managed to push through and get out, it was
terrible," she said, describing seeing people soaked in blood.

The incident bore echoes of an attack by militant Islamists
on Paris's Bataclan music hall in November 2015 that, along with assaults on
bars and restaurants, killed 130 people.

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

"A manhunt for the terrorist is underway. Police have
launched operations. We hope the attacker will be captured soon," he told

Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against ISIL and
launched an incursion into Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants
from its borders. It also helped broker a fragile ceasefire in Syria with

"As a nation, we will fight to the end against not just
the armed attacks of terror groups, but also against their economic, political
and social attacks," President Tayyip Erdogan said in a written statement.

"They are trying to create chaos, demoralize our
people, and destabilize our country ... We will retain our cool-headedness as a
nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such
dirty games," he said.

There has been no claim of responsibility, but Erdogan
linked the attacks to developments in the region where Turkey faces conflict
across its frontier in Syria and Iraq. Some three million Syrian refugees currently
live on Turkish soil.

The Reina club is one of Istanbul's best known nightspots,
popular with locals and foreigners alike. It overlooks the Bosphorus Strait
separating Europe and Asia in the city's cosmopolitan Ortakoy district.

As many as 600 people were thought to have been inside when
the gunman shot dead a policeman and civilian at the door, forced his way in
and then opened fire.

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

US President Barack Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, expressed
condolences and directed his team to offer help to the Turkish authorities, the
White House said.

"Police moved in

Dozens of ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to
the club in Ortakoy, a neighborhood on the city's European side nestled under
one of three bridges crossing the Bosphorus and home to nightclubs, restaurants
and art galleries.

"I didn't see who was shooting but heard the gun shots
and people fled. Police moved in quickly," Sefa Boydas, a Turkish soccer
player, wrote on Twitter.

"My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and
carried her out on my back," he said.

Hurriyet quoted Reina's owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, as saying
security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after US intelligence
reports suggested a possible attack.

Turkey faces multiple security threats including spillover
from the war in neighbouring Syria. As well as its cross-border campaign
against ISIL, it is fighting Kurdish militants in its own southeast.

The New Year's Day attack came five months after 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.

More than 100,000 people, including soldiers and police
officers, have been sacked or suspended in a subsequent crackdown ordered by
Erdogan, raising concern both about civic rights and the effectiveness of
Turkey's security apparatus.

On Dec. 28, the Nashir Media Foundation, which backs ISIL,
urged sympathizers to carry out attacks in Europe during the holiday period and
to "replace their fireworks with explosive belts and devices, and turn
their singing and clapping into weeping and wailing".

A month ago, a spokesman for ISIL called on supporters to
carry out a wave of attacks and urged them to target "the secular,
apostate Turkish government".

Turkey has seen repeated attacks in recent weeks. On Dec.
10, two bombs claimed by Kurdish militants exploded outside a soccer stadium in
Istanbul, killing 44 people, most of them police officers, and wounding more
than 150.

A car bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when
it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central
city of Kayseri a week later, an attack Erdogan also blamed on Kurdish

The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead as he gave a
speech in Ankara on Dec. 19 by an off-duty police officer who shouted
"Don't forget Aleppo" and "Allahu Akbar".

In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded
as three suspected ISIL militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on
Istanbul's main Ataturk airport.