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Slaughter at Istanbul nightclub: chief suspect caught on camera as IS claims attack

By Staff Reporter

Islamic State claimed responsibility yesterday for the New Year's attack at a popular Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people and wounded scores of others.

The admission came as police in Turkey issued CCTV footage showing the main suspect in the hours before the attack took place. The gunman escaped in the confusion following the killings.

The IS-linked Aamaq News Agency said the attack was carried by a "heroic soldier of the caliphate, who attacked the most famous nightclub where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast".

It said the man opened fire from an automatic rifle and detonated hand grenades in "revenge for God's religion and in response to the orders" of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The group described Turkey as "the servant of the cross" and suggested it was in retaliation for Turkish military offensives against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

"We let infidel Turkey know that the blood of Muslims that is being shed by its air strikes and artillery shelling will turn into fire on its territories," the statement said.

Police have detained eight people in connection with the attack, although the gunman was not among them.

The eight were taken into custody by Istanbul anti-terrorism squads and are being questioned at Istanbul's main police headquarters.

Earlier, Turkish media reports said authorities believed the gunman comes from a Central Asian nation and is likely to be either from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan.

Police had also established similarities with the high-casualty suicide bomb and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport in June, and were investigating whether the same IS cell could have carried out both attacks.

The gunman killed a policeman and another man outside the Reina club before entering and firing at an estimated 600 people partying inside with an automatic rifle.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the attacker left a gun at the club and escaped by "taking advantage of the chaos" that ensued.

Some customers reportedly jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus to escape the attack.

Nearly two-thirds of the dead in the upmarket club, which is frequented by local celebrities, were foreigners, Turkey's Anadolu Agency said. Many of them came from the Middle East.

Anadolu reported that 38 of the 39 dead had been identified - 11 of them were Turkish nationals and one was a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen.

The report says seven victims were from Saudi Arabia; three each were from Lebanon and Iraq; two each were from Tunisia, India, Morocco and Jordan. Kuwait, Canada, Israel, Syria and Russia each lost one citizen.

Relatives of the victims and embassy personnel were seen walking into an Istanbul morgue to claim the bodies of the deceased. Turkish officials have not released the names of those identified.

The mass shooting followed more than 30 violent acts over the past year in Turkey, which is a Nato alliance member and a partner in the US-led coalition fighting against IS in Syria and Iraq.

The country endured multiple bombings in 2016, including three in Istanbul alone which authorities blamed on IS, a failed coup attempt in July, and renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the south-east.

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