Terror outfit Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the shooting rampage at Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s night that killed 39 people.
In a statement circulated on social media, the jihadist group said one of the “soldiers of the caliphate” had carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub.
It accused Turkey, a majority-Muslim country, of being a servant of Christians, in a possible reference to Ankara’s alliance with the international coalition fighting IS in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
The statement said the assault was in response to Turkey’s military intervention against IS in war-ravaged Syria.
Turkish troops are pressing on with a four-month incursion in Syria to oust IS jihadists and Kurdish militants from the border area.
With foreigners making up the majority of those killed in yesterday’s attack, families were due to reclaim the bodies of more than two dozen non-Turkish and mainly Arab victims.
The shooting, which unleashed scenes of carnage and panic among party-goers at one of Istanbul’s swankiest venues, took place just 75 minutes into 2017 after a bloody year in Turkey in which hundreds of people were killed in violence blamed on both IS jihadists and Kurdish militants.
In the last few weeks, the forces have encountered fierce opposition from the jihadists around the town of Al-Bab. The army said Turkish war planes launched new air strikes around Al Bab.
Arriving by taxi at the plush Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus, the gunman produced a weapon, reportedly a Kalashnikov, and shot dead a policeman and civilian at the entrance.
According to the Hurriyet daily, the gunman then fired off four magazines containing a total of 120 bullets around the club, as terrified guests flung themselves into the freezing waters of the Bosphorus in panic.
But after changing clothes, the gunman left the nightclub in the ensuing chaos and has managed to evade security forces. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said that intense efforts were under way to find the gunman, and expressed hope that he would be captured soon. On Monday, Istanbul anti-terror police detained eight people suspected of links to the attacker.
(With inputs from agencies)