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Turkey Nightclub Attack Leaves 39 Dead; Suspect Not In Custody

Jan 1, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The person whom Turkish authorities say killed 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub last night is still at large. The attack in an upscale neighborhood killed at least 15 foreigners, including people from France, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Morocco. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, and it's just the latest in a wave of terrorism that's been plaguing Turkey for more than a year. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul, where we reached him. Hi, Peter. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: Why did Turkish officials think that this was the work of one person?

KENYON: Well, officials say that's the initial assessment by the security services. What they've seen so far points to a single gunman. There's reports that the shooter used an automatic long-barreled gun, possibly an AK-47. A guard was one of the first victims shot at the entrance to the Reina nightclub. It's in the Ortakoy neighborhood of Istanbul. It's a pretty high-end establishment, the kind of place on the Bosphorus Strait that has its own docks so the wealthy patrons can arrive on their private boats.

This attacker, though, entered from the street, and he just started spraying fire, we're told, on the partiers ringing in the new year. Terrified witnesses spoke about stepping on bodies as they tried to flee. Turkey's prime minister says the attacker left his weapon at the scene and fled in the chaotic aftermath.

MARTIN: There have been previous attacks in Turkey, but responsibility for these attacks has been claimed pretty quickly by either Islamic State supporters or Kurdish militants. So what are people so they are saying about who may have been behind this?

KENYON: Well, that's exactly right. And if this was a directed attack, ISIS and Kurdish militant groups would seem to be leading suspects. Based on past behavior alone, which is to say deliberately targeting civilians and soft targets like this, some analysts are pointing toward ISIS as the most likely suspect. They also note there was a website posting by an Islamist group known to support ISIS, and it called recently for lone wolf attacks aiming at soft targets, places just like nightclubs and theaters. And that post did mention Turkey in particular. That is all speculation for now though, and it's always possible this attacker wasn't motivated by any group. I should note the U.S. embassy in Ankara issued a statement today denying there was any intelligence that it had warning of an attack on a specific venue.

MARTIN: And can you tell us a bit more about the victims, what we know so far?

KENYON: Yes. The funerals have already begun for some of the slain Turks. The state-run news agency says the body of a female security guard who was killed in the attack is being flown to her hometown on the coast. She leaves behind a husband, a 3-year-old daughter. But the picture that's emerging at the moment is one of foreign nationals mostly being killed, some two-thirds of the fatalities possibly according to the state-run news agency.

The father of a 19-year-old Arab-Israeli woman who was killed says he warned his daughter not to go, but she insisted she had to go with her friends. It seems Saudi Arabia, Jordan, possibly Iraq as well lost multiple people in this killing, although we're still waiting for official confirmation on that.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter Kenyon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.