The attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club at around 1:15 a.m. on Sunday before entering and opening fire on people inside the club, Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin said shortly after the attack.
“Unfortunately [he] rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate the new year and have fun,” Governor Şahin told reporters.
A manhunt is now underway for the assailant as part of a province-wide search operation after the assailant apparently changed clothes inside the club before making his escape.
As police launched a search for the assailant, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan condemned the attack in a written statement following the attack saying, Turkey is determined to do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of its citizens and the safety of the region.
Offering his condolences for those who lost their lives including “foreign guests,” President Erdoğan urged everyone to unite and stand together against the terror attacks. While the president explained that the attacks were trying to provoke the people and create chaos, he emphasized that Turkey would never bow to the threat.
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım told reporters yesterday after visiting the wounded in a hospital that the attacker left a gun inside the venue and escaped by “taking advantage of the chaos” that ensued. Yıldırım also vowed to keep fighting terror organizations, and noted that, “The terror that happens here today may happen in another country in the world tomorrow.”
Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım chaired a high-level security meeting on Sunday after the nightclub attack in the Prime Ministry’s office located in the historic Dolmabahçe Palace compound in Istanbul. High-level officials attended the emergency meeting including Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, Health Minister Recep Akdağ, Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin and Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Çalışkan.
Meanwhile, Mehmet Görmez, the head of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), also condemned the terror attack in a written statement: “The armed attack on the vulnerable people in the first hours of the new year hurt our nation deeply. There is no difference whether this inhuman massacre is carried out at a bazaar, a place of entertainment or a place of worship.”
“Terrorists do not target places, but people, nations and the whole of humanity. Terrorism cannot be tolerated whoever or whatever it comes from,” Görmez added, describing the attack as “savagery.”
An estimated 500 people were inside the club that is also frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack.
The club lies on the shore of the Bosporus Strait in the Ortaköy district and according to local media some of the panicked people even jumped into the freezing water to save themselves.
Police with riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicles cordoned off the area surrounding the night club, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul. Several ambulances also arrived on the scene, taking the wounded to hospitals.
Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities for the holidays, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and capital Ankara. In Istanbul, some 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors.
Ankara and Istanbul have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by Daesh terrorists or PKK militants, killing more than 180 people.