The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the mass shooting on New Year’s Eve in a packed Istanbul nightclub that left 39 dead, as Turkish authorities continued their hunt for the attacker Monday morning. The Associated Press reported that police have detained eight people, but the gunman is not thought to be among them.
The claim, released on the encrypted Telegram messaging app and circulated on Twitter, praised a “soldier of the caliphate” for carrying out the attack on a target date when “Christians celebrate their apostate holiday.”
Describing Turkey as “the servant of the cross,” the statement said the attack was carried out under the orders of leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and suggested it was a response to Ankara’s military activities against IS. Turkey is a key member of the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, and has forces in northern Syria and Iraq involved in operations against the jihadi group.
The claim of responsibility was unusual: While IS has been blamed for a number of mass-casualty attacks on civilian targets in Turkey in the past 18 months, it has not officially claimed any before. “The apostate Turkish government should know that the blood of Muslims shed with airplanes and artillery fire will, with God’s permission, ignite a fire in their own land,” the statement said.
The rampage at the Reina nightclub, an upscale waterfront nightspot in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighborhood, was just the latest attack in Turkey, as it weathers twin terror campaigns from IS and Kurdish separatists.
Twenty-five of the victims were foreigners – many of them from Arab countries – with seven from Saudi Arabia; three from Lebanon and Iraq; two each from Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, and India; and one each from Canada, Kuwait, Israel, Syria and Russia, according to Turkish authorities. Eleven of the dead were Turkish nationals, one had dual Turkish-Belgian citizenship, and another is yet to be identified.
The gunman, believed to be pictured in grainy surveillance footage from the nightclub, left his weapon at the scene before fleeing amid the chaos, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said.
Turkish media report that police are investigating whether the attacker came from a central Asian nation, and are looking into any potential links to the IS cell that attacked Istanbul’s airport in June.
European security services have been on high alert over the holidays following an IS truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people.