Istanbul nightclub killer 'changed target at last minute'
The suspected Istanbul nightclub gunman was directed by an Isil commander in Syria who ordered him to change his target at the last minute, according to reports.
The shooter, named by Turkish authorities as Abdulgadir Masharipov (34), had originally planned to attack Taksim Square, a central gathering place in the city, but a handler in Raqqa told him to pick somewhere with less security.
Using the code name Ebu Muhammed Horasani, the Uzbek national told police yesterday that he entered Turkey through Iran in January 2016 and moved to the central city of Konya, the local 'Hurriyet' newspaper reported.
"When I was in Konya, an order came from (capital of Isil's self-declared caliphate) Raqqa for me to carry out an attack in Istanbul," he said in testimony to Turkish police.
After arriving in the city on December 16, he is reported to have spent the following week scouting for locations for the attack.
A video released by police showed Masharipov filming himself walking around Taksim Square on the day of the shooting.
"I arrived at Taksim on New Year's Eve but there were very intensive (security) measures. It was not possible to carry out an attack," he said.
"I re-established contact with the person who gave me the order and we agreed that Taksim was not suitable for an attack. I was ordered to scout a new target in the area."
The suspect said he later took a taxi to the Bosphorus river at around 10pm, when he spotted the Reina nightclub.
"It didn't look like security measures were high. I explained the situation to the person who gave me the order and told him that Reina was suitable. He agreed and asked me to carry out the attack at Reina," the man told police.
'Hurriyet' did not say how it obtained the testimony and the reports could not be independently verified.
Isil claimed responsibility the next day, saying the attack, which left 39 people dead, was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria. Turkish troops entered Syria last August to push the jihadists away from the border and halt Kurdish militia advances.
The suspect was arrested at a house in Esenyurt, a suburb on Istanbul's western outskirts, after a two-week manhunt. They also arrested an Iraqi man and three women from Egypt, Senegal and Somalia.
Police seized more than $200,000 (€187,000) in cash, pistols, ammunition and two drones from the property.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said on Tuesday that Masharipov had admitted his guilt and that his fingerprints matched those at the scene.
Mr Sahin described him as well-educated, able to speak four languages, and said he had received training in Afghanistan.
During the attack on new year revellers, the gunman arrived by taxi at the upmarket venue in the Ortaköy district and shot dead 21-year-old police officer Burak Yıldız and Ayhan Arık, a 47-year-old travel agent who had been walking past the entrance.
He then went inside and started spraying bullets at the 600 partygoers.
The attacker repeatedly reloaded his weapon to shoot the wounded as they lay on the ground.
Thirty nine people were killed and at least 70 people were injured. (© Daily Telegraph London)