Terror shooting shakes Turkey, more attacks feared
Istanbul - Almost one week after the terrorist attack at an upscale Istanbul nightclub that killed at least 39 New Year’s revellers, the perpetrator, believed to be of Turkic Uighur origin, remained at large. At least 36 people were in police custody in connection with the shooting at Reina, a popular club on the European bank of the Bosporus.
Turkish media reports said the wife of the alleged shooter was detained in Istanbul. Several other people were arrested in the Aegean coastal city of Izmir. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that several of them belonged to the Turkic Uighur ethnic group and are believed to have arrived in Turkey from China’s Xinjiang region.
The Reina attack shocked many Arab countries because citizens of Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia and Morocco were among the 27 foreigners killed. In a statement released January 2nd, the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had taken revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus criticised the country’s Syria policy following the nightclub attack. “I belong to those who believe that [Turkey’s] Syria policy is full of big mistakes,” he told the Turkish daily Hurriyet. “Of course, we will not side with the Assad regime and with the oppressors. We are now repairing and correcting [the policy].”
He said Turkey would work for a peace deal in Syria and mend ties with the Iraqi government.
Violence has surged in Turkey in recent years, with more than 400 people killed in major terrorist attacks since 2015, claimed either by Kurdish militants affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or with ISIS or who seem to have been inspired by the group. This includes the deadliest attack in the country’s modern history, a double suicide bombing targeting a peace rally in Ankara, on October 10th, 2015, that killed more than 100 people.
Observers warn that worse may yet come. Metin Gurcan, a security analyst, has long stressed that Turkey, which has suffered from terrorist attacks for decades, was unprepared to deal with the new type of violence carried out by attackers who were trained and radicalised on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
Others ask how the Reina shooting could have happened despite massive security measures on New Year’s Eve due to fears of just such attacks. Media reports said about 17,000 police officers were deployed in Istanbul alone. One Reina employee who survived the attack told Hurriyet that he had to pass “three police checks” when entering the club on December 31st and that the area had been “surrounded by police”.
Critics point to the hasty purges of the police force due to the ruling Justice and Development Party’s effort to root out followers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for last July’s coup attempt. They say the loss of manpower left the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks.