BELGRADE – Thirty-nine people were killed early Sunday in an attack on an Istanbul nightclub packed with New Year’s revelers, as authorities continue to search for the gunman, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said.
Among those identified, 15 of the dead are foreign nationals, five are Turkish, Soylu said, adding that a police officer was also killed. Eighteen victims are yet to be identified.
Soylu said 69 people are being treated in hospitals for injuries, four of them are serious and one very serious.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Soylu said the gunman was still on the run, adding: “efforts to find the terrorist are continuing.”
“Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time,” the minister said.
Vasip Sahin, the city’s governor, called the incident a terror attack.
Sahin called the attacker a terrorist who used a “long-range weapon” to brutally and savagely shoot revelers.
Turkish police converged on the area around the Reina club in Istanbul’s upscale Ortakoy area, an entertainment spot on the Bosporus popular with celebrities and foreigners.
Witnesses said as many as 600 people were inside at the time of the attack and said some revelers jumped into the waterway to escape the gunfire. Local reports say the police officer and a civilian were gunned down outside the facility before the gunman gained entry.
“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 Hurriyet newspaper.
“I managed to push through and get out, it was terrible,” she said, describing seeing people soaked in blood.
“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.
The Turkish government imposed a temporary blackout on coverage of the attack, citing national security reasons.
Other details remained sketchy more than an hour after the attack, and it was not immediately clear whether one or two gunmen were involved. Private NTV television said at least one gunman is believed to have gained entry to the club dressed as Santa Claus.
Video posted on social media showed rescue vehicles and police cars rushing to the scene right after the attack was first reported. Wounded people were seen being taken into ambulances.
The Hurriyet quoted Reina’s owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, as saying security measures had been taken over the past 10 days after U.S. intelligence reports suggested a possible attack.