Turkey on high alert ahead of NY terror attack anniversary

Security intensified, festivities banned at various popular spots

ISTANBUL • One year after a terror attack at an elite Istanbul nightclub left 39 dead, Turkey yesterday mounted its tightest security operations to usher in the New Year.

Just 45 minutes into 2017, an Uzbek gunman ran amok with a Kalashnikov at the Reina nightclub on the Bosphorus, killing indiscriminately before slipping away.

The attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group, was another body blow to Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after a year of terror attacks by militants and Kurdish rebels as well as a failed coup.

However, there has been no major attack in Turkey since the Reina killings, and security forces appear to be taking every possible precaution to ensure that this New Year's Eve passes without incident.

A total of 37,000 police will be deployed in Istanbul alone on New Year's Eve, more than double the year before, according to Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin.

Some 4,000 members of the gendarmerie and coastguard are also being put on duty.

Meanwhile, the authorities have scrapped or banned any New Year celebrations in some of the most popular areas for revellers, including the major hub of Taksim Square, the buzzing area of Besiktas and upscale shopping district Sisli.

  • 37,000 Number of police officers being deployed in Istanbul alone on New Year's Eve, more than double the year before, according to Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin.

    4,000 Members of the gendarmerie and coastguard being put on duty.

All road access to these areas will be cut off from the afternoon. Turkish state news agency Anadolu said police officers disguised as lottery-ticket and chestnut sellers would be deployed around Taksim to ensure security.

In an unusual move, the Istanbul authorities were also banning heavy goods vehicles from access to the city centre from yesterday morning to today.

In the capital Ankara, similar measures have been taken, with 9,700 police deployed and New Year celebrations banned in the central Kizilay Square.

Hundreds of suspected ISIS members, many of them foreigners, have also been arrested in swoops across the country in the past days, with some suspected of planning attacks over the New Year.

The Reina nightclub - once the haunt of Turkish football stars and even foreign celebrities - never reopened after the attack. The authorities bulldozed it on May 22, saying its owner had violated planning regulations.

Gunman Abdulkadir Masharipov, who was arrested after a 17-day manhunt, faces 40 life sentences - one for each of the victims and for the crime itself. Of the 39 people killed in the attack, 27 were foreigners, including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco.

Over in Germany, a "safe zone" has been set up at Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate for women to speak to psychologists if they are sexually assaulted or harassed during the New Year celebrations. It is the first time that such an effort was being undertaken in the country.

On New Year's Eve 2015, about 1,200 women were sexually assaulted in several major German cities, with more than 600 women attacked in Cologne and about 400 victims in the northern city of Hamburg.

Prosecutors established that more than 2,000 men were involved in the assaults, but only a tiny fraction - about half of them foreign nationals who at the time had only recently arrived in the country - had been identified a year later.

It took months for the full scale of the 2015 assaults to emerge, but when prosecutors released their final estimates, Germans' attitudes towards refugees had changed dramatically: To many, New Year's Eve 2015 was the night that Germany's welcoming attitude towards newcomers ended. Leading politicians called for tougher deportation laws soon after.

Far fewer cases of sexual assault were registered in 2016 after the authorities sent out thousands of additional police officers onto the streets and banned the use of fireworks in several locations.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2018, with the headline 'Turkey on high alert ahead of NY terror attack anniversary'. Print Edition | Subscribe