Turkey nightclub gunman 'switched target at last minute'

Above: A handout photo showing an unidentified man being arrested during a police raid in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. Right: A room inside the apartment where Masharipov was arrested.
A handout photo showing an unidentified man being arrested during a police raid in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: A handout photo showing an unidentified man being arrested during a police raid in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul. Right: A room inside the apartment where Masharipov was arrested.
A room inside the apartment where Masharipov was arrested.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Uzbek man wanted to avoid heavy security at Taksim Square, the original target: Report

ISTANBUL • An Uzbek gunman who killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Day told police that he had to change target at the last minute to avoid heavy security, and acted with direct orders from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a newspaper said yesterday.

The gunman, named by the authorities on Tuesday as Abdulgadir Masharipov, 34, had initially been told to attack the area around the central Taksim Square, and said his instructions came from Raqqa, a Syrian stronghold of ISIS, the Hurriyet newspaper cited him as saying in police testimony.

Using the code name Ebu Muhammed Horasani, the man told police that he had entered Turkey through Iran in January last year and moved to the central city of Konya, the Hurriyet reported.

"When I was in Konya, an order came from Raqqa for me to carry out an attack in Taksim" Square in Istanbul, he told Turkish police.

He moved to Istanbul on Dec 16 and scouted for a suitable place to attack.

"I arrived at Taksim on New Year's Eve, but there were very intensive security measures. It was not possible to carry out an attack," he said.

"I re-established contact with the person who gave me the order and we agreed that Taksim was not suitable for an attack. I was ordered to scout a new target in the area."

The suspect said he later toured the shores of the Bosphorus in a taxi when he spotted the Reina nightclub.

"It didn't look like security measures were high. I explained the situation to the person who gave me the order and told him that Reina was suitable. He agreed and asked me to carry out the attack at Reina," the man told police, according to Hurriyet.

After getting the green light from the unnamed ISIS militant in Syria, the suspect said he took a taxi to Istanbul's Zeytinburnu neighbourhood, picked up his weapon from home and went back to attack the club.

The Turkish authorities on Monday detained Masharipov, who spent 17 days on the run following the attack that was claimed by ISIS. They also arrested an Iraqi man and three women from Egypt, Senegal and Somalia.

Officials identified the man as an Uzbek national who trained in Afghanistan, saying he confessed to carrying out the attack and that his fingerprints matched those of the attacker at the scene.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday hailed the police as "far-sighted" for their nationwide hunt for the killer that involved around 1,000 officers.

Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, in comments published by the official Anadolu news agency, said the authorities had used every means available from cameras to digital data in order to trace the gunman.

Turkish police yesterday detained 27 suspects and 29 children in anti-ISIS raids targeting seven addresses in the north-western city of Bursa, Anadolu reported.

The suspects are believed to have links to the Reina attack, it added.

The carnage at the elite club, just 75 minutes into the new year, shook Turkey, which had already been on edge after a string of attacks last year blamed on Kurdish militants and Islamists.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Turkey nightclub gunman 'switched target at last minute''. Print Edition | Subscribe