The search is on for an assailant in Turkey who unleashed a salvo of bullets in front of and inside a crowded Istanbul nightclub during New Year's celebrations on Sunday, killing at least 39 people before fleeing.
Foreigners were among the fatalities, including Indians, an 18-year-old Israeli woman, a 26-year-old man from Lebanon and a Belgian national, according to the countries' respective foreign ministries and a relative.
Close to 70 others were injured in what authorities described as a terror attack. Three of the wounded were in critical condition, Turkey's prime minister said.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vehemently condemned "the terror attack in Istanbul's Ortakoy neighborhood in the first hours of 2017" and offered condolences for those who lost their lives, including "foreign guests."
The attacker, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the popular Reina club at around 1:15 am (local time) before entering and firing on people partying inside, Gov. Vasip Sahin said.
"Unfortunately, (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year's and have fun," Sahin told reporters.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack and authorities did not name any suspects. The bloodiest attacks that Turkey endured in 2016 were the work of the Islamic State group or Kurdish militants.
Turkey is a member of NATO and a partner in the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group. The country is also facing renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels in the southeast, and across the border in Syria and Iraq.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said a suspect has not been identified and that the gunman remains at large. Soylu, describing the attack as a "massacre, a truly inhumane savagery," said three or four of the Turkish victims may have been employees at the nightclub.
"Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing, he will be caught in a short period of time," Soylu said.
Private NTV news channel said the assailant entered the upscale nightclub, on the shores of the Bosporus, on the European side of the city, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit.
Security camera footage obtained by The Associated Press from Haberturk newspaper, shows the male assailant dressed in black and carrying a backpack as he shoots down a police officer outside the Reina nightclub.
Footage taken by a different camera shows him inside the venue wearing different clothes and a Santa Claus hat.
However, Turkey's prime minister denied that the gunman wore a Santa Claus outfit.
"There is no truth to this. He is an armed terrorist as we know it," Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters.
Yildirim said the attacker left a gun inside the venue and escaped by "taking advantage of the chaos" that ensued.
Some customers reportedly jumped into the waters of the Bosporus to escape the attack.
Mehmet Dag, 22, was passing by the club and saw the suspect shoot at a police officer and a bystander. He said the suspect then targeted security guards, gunning them down and entering the club.