Turkish police catch up with Istanbul nightclub killer
Istanbul - The man suspected of killing 39 people celebrating New Year’s Eve in an exclusive Istanbul nightclub told Turkish police that he was directed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and had switched targets only hours before the attack due to heavy security elsewhere in the city.
Turkish authorities said the gunman confessed to the attack on the Reina nightclub after he was captured, ending a nationwide manhunt.
Parts of the suspect’s statement to police appeared in the Turkish media. The Hurriyet daily reported that the suspect — Abdulkadir Masharipov, a 33-year-old Uzbek — was told by militants in Raqqa, ISIS’s de facto capital in Syria, to stage an attack around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square.
“The order came from Raqqa. I was told to stage an attack on New Year’s Eve in Taksim,” he was quoted as saying to the police. “On New Year’s Eve, I went to Taksim but heavy security precautions had been taken there. It did not seem possible to stage an attack.”
Masharipov reportedly said he spoke to his contacts in Raqqa and was told to search for another target. He said he took a cab around 10pm and wound up on the banks of the Bosporus, near the Reina nightclub. “Reina looked suitable for an attack,” he said. “There did not seem to be heavy security there. I told [my contact] that Reina seemed suitable. [The contact] accepted that and told me to stage an attack in Reina.”
Masharipov described how he picked up his gun in the Zeytinburnu neighbourhood. He returned to the nightclub, killed a policeman and a passer-by before entering and opening fire on a crowd of 600 partygoers.
Local media published photographs that show the suspect with a swollen and bruised face. Bloodstains can be seen on his face and T-shirt and he was being held by the neck. Hurriyet did not publish details on how it obtained the police statement. It was also unclear how police got the confession.
Masharipov was captured in a large police raid late January 16th in the Istanbul suburb of Esenyurt. Police also detained an Iraqi man and three women from Senegal, Somalia and Egypt. It was not clear whether the women had ties to ISIS. Some media reported that they were planning to go to Syria to join the jihadist group.
Police also seized two drones, ammunition and almost $200,000 in cash that Masharipov reportedly received from ISIS to facilitate his escape. His wife was detained in the Istanbul suburb of Pendik and their 18-month-old daughter was taken into care, Turkish media reported. Police were still looking for their 4-year-old son.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said Masharipov admitted to carrying out the attack.
“The terrorist confessed his crime,” Sahin said at a January 17th news conference, adding that his fingerprints matched those found at the scene of the shooting.
The governor described the Uzbek gunman as a “well-trained terrorist” who “was educated in Afghanistan and can speak four languages”. He said he police operation to capture the Reina shooter involved 2,000 officers. CNN Turk reported that joint police operations against ISIS cells in Turkey had also been carried out in other provinces, including Bursa, Hatay, Izmir and Kayseri. More than 250 people, including 168 foreign nationals, were detained in relation to the Reina nightclub attack.
Hurriyet reported that Masharipov, who was allegedly part of a Central Asian ISIS cell and operated under the code name Abu Muhammad al-Horasani, is thought to have received training in al-Qaeda camps before joining ISIS.
“In January last year I entered Turkey via Iran because I had been told to join the war in Syria,” Masharipov reportedly told police. He settled in the central Anatolian town of Konya, where he received the order to stage the Istanbul attack. He is believed to have arrived in Istanbul on December 16th.
In the early hours of January 1st, the gunman had opened fire on revellers in the exclusive Reina nightclub with an automatic rifle, killing 39, 27 of whom were foreigners, many from Arab countries. According to reports, he used stun grenades and, in several cases, shot those wounded and lying on the ground.
It was the first terrorist attack on Turkish soil undisputedly claimed by ISIS. In a statement released following the attack, the group said it had taken revenge for the Turkish military involvement in Syria. In August, Turkish troops entered Syria to reclaim border territory from ISIS and to push back the advance of Kurdish fighters.