One week after a video emerged of the Berlin Christmas market truck killer, Anis Amri, pledging allegiance to ISIS, on Monday the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the deadly New Year’s Day terrorist attack in Istanbul that killed at least 39 people and wounded dozens more, claiming the operation had targeted Turkey in revenge for Turkish military operations against the organization in Syria, a similar justification used by the Turkish offduty policemen to assassinate the Russian ambassador in Turkey in December.
The statement was distributed by Nashir News, a channel that publishes Islamic State propaganda, and which had called for followers of the extremist group to target holiday celebrations days before the attack the WSJ reported. In the statement, the Islamic State described the Reina nightclub, where many foreigners as well as Turks were killed, as a gathering point for Christians celebrating their "apostate holiday".
"The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God's permission, ignite a fire in their own land," the Islamic State declaration said. There was no immediate comment from Turkish officials according to Reuters.
The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months but, other than targeted assassinations, this is the first time it has directly claimed any of them. It made the statement on one of its Telegram channels, a method used after attacks elsewhere. Islamic State most recently killing more than 50 people in August at a wedding in Gaziantep by the Syrian border. Within days of that bombing, Turkey launched its operation inside Syria. Previously, the extremist organization struck Istanbul’s biggest airport, killing more than 40 people in June during an attack waged with bombs and firearms.
Attacks in Turkey have accelerated in recent weeks: on Dec. 10, two bombs claimed by Kurdish militants exploded outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul, killing 44 people. A security guard who survived that attack was killed at Reina. A car bomb killed at least 13 soldiers and wounded 56 when it ripped through a bus carrying off-duty military personnel in the central city of Kayseri a week later, an attack Erdogan also blamed on Kurdish militants. Islamic State's Amaq website said the group was behind a car bomb attack that killed 11 people and wounded 100 in the city of Diyarbakir in November, but Turkish authorities denied this and said Kurdish militants carried out the attack. The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot dead as he gave a speech in Ankara on Dec. 19 by an off-duty police officer who shouted "Don't forget Aleppo" and "Allahu Akbar."
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Meanwhile, on Monday the Turkish police continued the manhunt for the suspected gunman behind the Istanbul nightclub shooting. The lone attacker sprayed bullets into a crowd of revelers who had come from across the Middle East and elsewhere to celebrate at the Reina, a cosmopolitan party spot overlooking the Bosporus.
The attacker was believed to have taken a taxi from the southern Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul and, because of the busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightclub, newspaper Haberturk said. He pulled his Kalashnikov rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road, opened fire on those at the door, then threw two hand grenades after entering, Turkey's Haberturk said. It said six empty magazines were found at the scene and that he was estimated to have fired at least 180 bullets.
On Sunday afternoon, surveillance footage appeared to show the suspect behind Sunday's attack on an Istanbul nightclub opening fire at the entrance.
Security services had been on alert across Europe for new year celebrations following an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people. Only days ago, an online message from a pro-Islamic State group called for attacks by "lone wolves" on "celebrations, gatherings and clubs".
In a statement hours after the shooting, President Tayyip Erdogan said such attacks aimed to create chaos and destabilize the country. Additionally, the government, in what has become an increasingly routine step, has imposed a media ban on coverage of the attack, prohibiting reporting of information other than what is released by authorities.
In Syria, rebels backed by Turkey’s armed forces have been taking over territory previously held by Islamic State, helping Ankara with its goal of establishing a safe zone for opposition forces while also clearing the porous Turkish border of extremist militants.
In its statement, disseminated in Arabic and Turkish, Islamic State said “let the apostate government of Turkey know that the blood of Muslims being shed through the shelling of its warplanes and artillery will inflame a fire in the middle of [Turkey] God willing.”
Moments ago, the Turkish polish said that its has detained eight people in connection with the istanbul attack however the gunman is said not to be among those in custody.
AP: Turkish police have reportedly detained eight people in connection with the Istanbul attack but the gunman is not among those in custody— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) January 2, 2017
Police distributed a hazy black-and-white photo of the alleged gunman taken from security footage.He is described as having "wide eyes and wide cheekbones" which dominate his face.
The authorities believe the attacker may be from a Central Asian nation and suspect he had links to Islamic State, the Hurriyet newspaper said. It said he may be from the same cell responsible for a gun-and-bomb attack on Istanbul's main airport in June, in which 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded.