At scene of massacre, an agonising wait for loved ones

Relatives of Ayhan Arik, one of the victims of the Reina night club attack, mourning during his funeral ceremony on Jan 1, 2017, in Istanbul.
Relatives of Ayhan Arik, one of the victims of the Reina night club attack, mourning during his funeral ceremony on Jan 1, 2017, in Istanbul.PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL • At the security cordon outside Istanbul's Reina nightclub, where a gunman went on the rampage killing New Year revellers, a man yells that he must get through, that he knows someone inside.

A policeman puts an arm around his shoulder and holds the man as he collapses in tears. He is escorted away from media and police throw a jacket over his shoulders to keep him warm.

At least 39 people were killed, including many foreigners, in the bloodshed at the upscale nightclub in Istanbul's Ortakoy district.

The swanky Reina is the place to be on New Year's Eve in Istanbul and its dance floor and lounges were packed with hundreds of people at the time of the attack, just over an hour after the fireworks went off to mark 2017.

It became a night of horror, triggering panic among residents of the city that their loved ones were among the victims.

In the aftermath of the attack, ambulances and police cars crowded outside the venue on the shores of the Bosphorus as dazed survivors still in their party clothes gathered outside.

  • Singapore condemns terror attack

  • Singapore has condemned the terrorist attack at the Reina club in Istanbul's Ortakoy district yesterday that resulted in the loss of many lives as well as injuries.

    "We extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families and wish those injured a speedy recovery," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press statement issued yesterday.

    According to the statement, the MFA has reached out to Singaporeans who are e-registered in Istanbul to verify that they are safe.

    "The Singapore Embassy in Ankara is also in close contact with the local Turkish authorities on this incident. Thus far, there are no reports of any Singaporeans directly affected or injured by the incident," the statement said.

    The MFA has advised Singaporeans in Turkey to exercise vigilance. It has also urged them to monitor the local news and follow the instructions of the Turkish authorities.

    "(Singaporeans) are also advised to keep in touch with family and friends, so that they know you are safe," the MFA statement said.

    Singaporeans have been directed to contact the Singapore Embassy in Ankara or the 24-hour MFA Duty Office in case they require consular assistance.

"We came here to have a good time today, but everything was suddenly transformed into chaos and a night of horror," said Italian tourist Maximilien.

"We were there, we were having fun, when all of a sudden people started running," club patron Sinem Uyanik told the Hurriyet newspaper. Ms Uyanik was waiting outside a hospital, where her husband, who had also been at the club, was being treated for gunshot wounds.

"It was so horrible. It smelled like gunpowder," she said. At some point, she fainted, and then "woke up and saw my husband covered in blood", she told the paper. "So many people were covered in blood."

Relatives and loved ones of those feared to be inside queued by the police cordon staffed by heavily armed police in the winter cold.

"My sister was inside," said one woman. "I received a call and she said she was inside and there were gunshots. That was it. I have not been able to reach her since."

The city had already been on edge ahead of the New Year, an obvious security risk after a string of attacks this year blamed on Kurdish militants and Islamists.

The authorities had boasted that 17,000 police officers would be on duty in the city for New Year. But their mass deployment could do nothing to prevent the horror unleashed by a single individual.

For another woman standing outside, the situation is more certain. "My elder brother is inside. I had news. Thankfully, he is fine. I am waiting for him now," she said.

She reassured a relative on the phone. "Don't cry. He is coming."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'At scene of massacre, an agonising wait for loved ones'. Print Edition | Subscribe