Wednesday 21 March 2018

Turkey identifies nightclub gunman as President Erdogan addresses nation

A man with a Turkish flag walks past a police officer during a memorial outside the Reina club following the New Year's Day attack in Istanbul (AP/Emrah Gurel)
A man with a Turkish flag walks past a police officer during a memorial outside the Reina club following the New Year's Day attack in Istanbul (AP/Emrah Gurel)

Turkey has identified the gunman in the Istanbul nightclub massacre, the foreign minister said as the president vowed that the country will not surrender to terrorists or become divided.

The gunman, who killed 39 people during New Year's celebrations at the Reina club, is still at large.

But foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said authorities had identified the man, without providing details.

"The identity of the person who carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub has been established," Mr Cavusoglu told Anadolu in a live televised interview.

Turkish police, meanwhile, detained at least five suspected Islamic State (IS) militants believed to be linked to the attack, the state-run news agency reported.

The operation was launched in the Aegean port city of Izmir and was ongoing, the Anadolu Agency said.

IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded nearly 70 people.

Of those killed 27 were foreigners, many from the Middle East.

IS said a "soldier of the caliphate" had carried out the mass shooting to avenge Turkish military operations against IS in northern Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the attack aims to set Turks against each other and deepen fault lines, but the country will not fall for this game.

Mr Erdogan made the comments in a live speech from Ankara, the first time he has publicly addressed the nation since the attack.

Responding to accusations in the past that Turkey had given support to IS, Mr Erdogan said that "to present the country which is leading the greatest struggle against Daesh as one supporting terrorism is what the terror organisation wants".

Mr Erdogan said that "in Turkey, no-one's way of life is under any threat. Those who claim this have to prove it. It is my duty to protect everyone's rights".

He also said that "to say Turkey has surrendered to terrorism is to take sides with the terrorists and terror organisations".

Police in Istanbul have set up checkpoints and are checking vehicles across the city as security levels remained high.

Police were stopping cars and Istanbul's ubiquitous yellow taxis, with passengers and drivers holding up their identifications while officers inspected inside the vehicles. Istanbul has been on high alert since the attack, with the gunman still at large.

The private Dogan news agency said that Wednesday's police operation targeted three families who had arrived in Izmir about 20 days ago from Konya - a city in central Turkey where the gunman is thought to have been based before carrying out the nightclub attack.

It said 27 people, including women and children, were taken into custody.

At least 14 people were previously detained in connection with the attack, including two foreigners stopped on Tuesday at the international terminal of Istanbul's Ataturk Airport after police checked their mobile phones and luggage, according to Anadolu.

Turkish media reports claimed on Tuesday that the gunman's wife was in custody and had told police she did not know her husband was linked to IS.

An eerie selfie video emerged of the alleged gunman on Tuesday, showing him silently touring Istanbul's most famous square. The camera never leaves the man's unsmiling face as he walks through Taksim Square during the 44-second clip that was broadcast on state-run Anadolu television and other Turkish media.

Funerals were held in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey for the dead and on Wednesday, a Turkish Airlines jet carrying the bodies of two Indian citizens killed in the shooting landed in Mumbai. The bodies were received by a governing party politician and the victims' relatives and friends.

Bollywood film producer Abis Rizvi's body was taken to his home in suburban Bandra for burial later. The 49-year-old wrote, produced and directed a Bollywood movie, Roar: The Tigers Of Sunderbans, in 2014 aimed at spreading awareness about tigers.

The other Indian victim of the Istanbul attack was Khushi Shah, a 39-year-old fashion designer from Vadodara, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Ms Shah's body was flown to her home town for cremation later, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Late on Tuesday, Turkey's parliament voted to extend by a further three months a state of emergency that was declared in the aftermath of the failed July 15 coup.

Turkey imposed the state of emergency to crack down on a network linked to US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating the coup attempt. Gulen denies any involvement.


Press Association

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