Istanbul attack 'was to polarise country'

Flowers have been placed in front of the Reina nightclub in memory of the victims. The attack has been claimed by ISIS, and the gunman is believed to be an ethnic Uighur.
Flowers have been placed in front of the Reina nightclub in memory of the victims. The attack has been claimed by ISIS, and the gunman is believed to be an ethnic Uighur.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Turkish union members marching with a banner that reads, "We will not get used to terrorism", in Istanbul on Tuesday. Sunday's shooting followed a year of attacks in Turkey, in which hundreds of people were killed.
Turkish union members marching with a banner that reads, "We will not get used to terrorism", in Istanbul on Tuesday. Sunday's shooting followed a year of attacks in Turkey, in which hundreds of people were killed.

Suspect in nightclub attack identified as Turkey arrests more in widening probe

ANKARA • Turkey said it has identified the gunman behind the Istanbul nightclub attack that killed 39, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the shooting aimed to polarise Turkish society.

The assailant stormed the glamorous Reina club on the Bosphorus early on Sunday morning, spraying 120 bullets at terrified partygoers celebrating the new year.

At least 36 people have now been detained in the probe, but the gunman himself remains on the run after slipping away following the attack.

"The identity of the person responsible for the attack has been established," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during an interview with state-run Anadolu news agency, without giving any name.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Turkish media reports have said that the attacker is believed to be an ethnic Uighur, possibly from Kyrgyzstan.

PLEDGE TO COMBAT THREAT

No one's lifestyle in Turkey is under a systematic threat. We would never let this happen. In 14 years in power, we have never given this a chance.

TURKISH PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, in his first spoken comments on the Istanbul nightclub attack.

Efforts to capture him continue, said Mr Cavusoglu, adding that the house the suspect lived in has been searched, and that the attack he mounted had been professionally planned.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the massacre in a statement on Monday, marking the first time it has issued a clear and undisputed claim for a major attack inside Turkey.

By hitting a nightclub during New Year festivities, the attack struck at the heart of secular Turkey, said analysts, adding that ISIS clearly sought to widen splits in Turkish society.

Yesterday, in his first spoken comments on the attack, Mr Erdogan said the attack's aim was "to create a fissure and polarise society". But he insisted that Turkey would resist efforts to divide the country.

"No one's lifestyle in Turkey is under a systematic threat. We would never let this happen. In 14 years in power, we have never given this a chance," he said in a speech at the presidential palace in Ankara.

ISIS said the attack was a response to Turkey's military intervention in war-ravaged Syria, where Turkish troops are pressing a four-month incursion to oust militants from the border area.

In Turkey's western city of Izmir, at least 20 people, including 11 women, were detained, Anadolu reported. It said they were of Central Asian and Syrian origin, while Dogan news agency said they were members of three families.

It was alleged that some of those detained had been living in the house with the suspected attacker in the Anatolian city of Konya.

The new arrests bring the number of those detained to at least 36, including two foreigners detained at Istanbul's main airport on Tuesday.

Among those arrested was a woman suspected of being the gunman's wife, with whom he had lived in Konya along with two children. Dogan news agency quoted her as saying she was not aware of the attack until it was reported.

Yesterday, Haberturk daily said that during his getaway the gunman took a taxi to an Uighur restaurant in the city's Zeytinburnu district, where he left the cab and went inside to get money from someone to pay the fare. The restaurant owner told the paper that police have since detained seven of his workers - all of them Turkic Uighurs from the Xinjiang region of China - but that he did not know the attacker himself.

The shooting occurred after a bloody year in Turkey in which hundreds of people were killed in violent attacks blamed on both ISIS and Kurdish militants.

The country is also still reeling from a failed July 15 coup blamed by the government on cleric Fethullah Gulen, based in the United States.

The Turkish Parliament on Tuesday extended a controversial state of emergency in place since the coup - and which has seen more than 41,000 people arrested - by another three months to April 19.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2017, with the headline 'Istanbul attack 'was to polarise country''. Print Edition | Subscribe