ISTANBUL � Turkish authorities say they are close to identifying the gunman being sought in connection with the New Year's attack on an Istanbul nightclub that left 39 people dead, many of them foreigners. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the assault.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told reporters Monday that authorities have obtained the fingerprints and basic description of the gunman. A grainy image of the suspected assailant taken from security camera footage has been released across Turkish media. Kurtulmus also confirmed that eight people have been detailed in connection with the deadly assault.
The attack began early Sunday with the gunman killing a police officer and a civilian outside the Reina nightclub before going inside. There were about 600 people, many of them foreigners, in the club at the time, some of whom jumped into the Bosporus strait in order to escape. Authorities said the shooter blended in with people leaving the club. In addition to those killed, about 70 people were injured.
IS claims responsibility
In a statement Monday, Islamic State said one of its heroic soldiers carried out the attack and that it targeted Turkey for siding with countries of the cross." The group said the night club was targeted because it was a place where Christians celebrated their apostles.
"It was certainly expected that Islamic State would one way or another be linked to the attack, said political analyst Sinan Ulgen, of EDAM, an Istanbul-based political research group. "Looking at both the nature of the target, a popular night club, (and) the timing, New Year's Eve, made it likely to be Islamic State.
In a video released last week, Islamic State called on its supporters to launch attacks in Turkey. The video came against the backdrop of the Turkish military's ongoing battle to wrest control of the strategically important Syrian town of al-Bab from the jihadist group.
Citing security sources, Turkish media reported Monday the gunman in the nightclub attack is believed to have come from a Central Asian country, either Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. Many Islamic State fighters are drawn from Central Asian countries and have used Istanbul as a base before traveling to fight in Syria.
Experts say Turkey is paying for the government's earlier Syrian policy. Turkey did choose to support Islamist-leaning groups of the Syrian rebel opposition, with the view and expectation that support would accelerate regime change in Syria, notes analyst Ulgen. What we have seen is these groups have taken advantage of the position of the Turkish government to set up (terror) cells within Turkey, which are now being used against Turkey.
Local media, citing a police report, said that three days before the nightclub attack, 63 suspected Islamic State militants were detained across Turkey, including in Istanbul. The same report said many of those held were from foreign countries and that the same jihadist cell which carried out June's attack on Istanbul's Ataturk airport could be behind this latest deadly attack.
Funerals are continuing for those killed in the New Year's attack, which was the fourth deadly IS attack in Istanbul in a year.
For one unnamed mourner there was both anger and despair.
This is where words fail. What word, what sentence can depict this pain? After life is gone, the heart is gone. Terror is not only the problem of this country, it is the problem of every living person, but they just cannot find a solution, the mourner said.
The PKK Kurdish rebel group has also carried out bombings in Turkey's main cities, including last month in Istanbul. The government has promised to step up security.
But the security forces are struggling to cope with mass purges within their ranks after July's failed coup attempt, which Turkey's government has blamed on followers of the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Analysts say anti-terror units have been among the worst hit. That ... conclusion can be reached because the Turkish government has not been able to preempt or prevent a series of attacks in recent months, said Ulgen.
The Justice Ministry promised via Twitter to crack down on supporters of terrorism on social media and called on people to report such statements.
Crackdown on jihadists
One of the first to be affected by the crackdown appeared in a video on Twitter with a group of people calling for the defense of secularism and for Turks to stand up to jihadist gangs. Aysegul Basar was detained after someone lodged a complaint about the video with the Interior Ministry.
Deputy Prime Minister Kurtulmus warned Monday that the current state of emergency, introduced after July's botched coup, will remain in force until the terror threat ends.
Analysts note similar statements have been made after every attack, and there is a growing sense in the country that its increasingly overstretched security forces are incapable of stopping the terror attacks.
Source: Voice of America