- Turkish police continue the manhunt for an unidentified attacker who went on a deadly shooting rampage at a nightclub in Istanbul just over an hour into the New Year.
Fresh details have emerged on the terror attack, with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu saying police and intelligence officials are now piecing together the clues they have found so far.
The masked assailant shot dead 39 people, mostly foreigners, and injured 69 others inside the club at the popular Besiktas area, where people were celebrating the New Year.
According to local media, between 120 and 180 rounds were fired by the armed man during the seven-minute attack. Many of those at the club chose to throw themselves into the freezing waters of Bosphorus to save their lives.
According to Soylu, the gunman managed to flee unnoticed after the shooting spree and still remains at large.
The assailant “left the gun and went away from the scene of the incident,” the minister told reporters, denying earlier reports that a Santa Claus costume had been used as a disguise.
Soylu cited security forces’ accounts as saying that the gunman had acted alone in staging the attack.
- “There weren’t multiple gunmen. He was wearing a coat and trousers. He went inside as he opened fire all around. And we were informed that he was wearing different clothes inside and he tried to get out. Our police forces are continuing to assess this information,” he noted.
Turkish police also said they have gotten hold of the taxi that the lone masked attacker took to the scene, and that they were dusting the vehicle for potential fingerprints left by the suspect.
Justice Ministry sources also said 38 of the victims had been identified -- 27 foreigners and 11 Turks, the Anadolu news agency reported.
Among the dead were an Israeli woman, three Indians, three Lebanese, a woman with dual French-Tunisian citizenship and her Tunisian husband, two Jordanians, a Belgian national, a Kuwaiti citizen and a Canadian.
The US State Department confirmed that a Delaware businessman, originally from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, was also among the wounded.
CCTV footage captured snippets of the attack at the Reina club when the assailant is seen shooting a customer and then disappearing from the frame.
Horror-stricken witnesses later spoke of the panic and bloodshed at the nightclub.
- “We came here to have a good time today but everything was suddenly transformed into chaos and a night of horror,” Italian tourist Maximilien said.
Professional footballer Sefa Boydas also told AFP, “Just as we were settling down, by the door there was a lot of dust and smoke. Gunshots rang out.”
“People were walking on top of people,” he added.
Another survivor, Francois al-Asmar, from Lebanon, also recounted how he escaped death.
“I was saved by my passport which I was carrying right near my heart,” he told Lebanese television.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin has said the attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the nightclub before entering and opening fire on people partying inside.
Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited Liv Hospital in the city to meet some of the injured victims.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack.
Also on Monday, Turkey’s Hurriyet daily reported that the attacker was believed to be linked to Daesh and may have been from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.
It, however, did not specify either its sources or the parties suspecting the potential link.
Investigators also consider it possible that the attacker is linked to the same cell that in June carried out a triple bombing and gun attack at Istanbul;s Ataturk Airport, which was blamed on Daesh. The assaults left 47 dead.
Turkey has come under many attacks over the past year, claimed by Kurdish militants and the Daesh Takfiri terror group, which operates in neighboring Syria and Iraq.