Police secure an area near an Istanbul nightclub, following a gun attack, Turkey, January 1, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic State claimed responsibility for a gun attack on an Istanbul nightclub which killed 39 people on Sunday, the group said in a statement on Monday.
"In continuation of the blessed operations that Islamic State is conducting against the protector of the cross, Turkey, a heroic soldier of the caliphate struck one of the most famous nightclubs where the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday," the statement said.
During the attack, a gunman opened fire on New Year's revelers at a packed nightclub on the shores of Istanbul's Bosphorus waterway, then fled the scene. Many foreigners were among the fatalities, including Israeli national Lian Nasser, 18
from the town of Tira. Another Israeli, a 22-year-old woman also from Tira, was wounded.
Flowers are laid outside Istanbul nightclub
Some people jumped into the Bosphorus to save themselves after the attacker began shooting at random in the Reina nightclub just over an hour into the new year. Witnesses described diving under tables as the assailant walked around spraying bullets from an automatic rifle.
The attack shook NATO member Turkey as it tries to recover from a failed July coup and a series of deadly bombings in cities including Istanbul and the capital Ankara, some blamed on Islamic State and others claimed by Kurdish militants.
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."
"At first we thought some men were fighting with each other," said a Lebanese woman who gave her name as Hadeel and who was in the club with her husband and a friend. "Then we heard the sound of the gunfire and ducked under the tables.
"We heard the guy screaming Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest), all three of us heard that ... We heard his footsteps crushing the broken glass," she told Reuters. "We got out through the kitchen, there was blood everywhere and bodies."
Officials spoke of a single attacker, a "lone wolf" in the parlance of Islamic State, but some reports citing witnesses including on social media suggested there may have been several.
The incident bore echoes of an attack by militant Islamists on Paris's Bataclan music hall in November 2015 that, along with assaults on bars and restaurants, killed 130 people.
Nationals of Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Libya, Israel, a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen and a Franco-Tunisian woman were among those killed, officials said. Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh said five of the dead were from Saudi Arabia.
France said three of its citizens were wounded.
A massive security operation unfolded to track down the fugitive assailant or assailants and any conspirators.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 15 or 16 of those killed at Reina were foreigners but only 21 bodies had so far been identified. He told reporters 69 people were in hospital, four of them in critical condition.Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.