Thirty-nine people, including many foreigners, were killed on Sunday when a gunman went on a rampage at an exclusive nightclub in Istanbul where revellers were celebrating the New Year.
As police launched a dragnet for the assailant, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the carnage sought to sow chaos and undermine peace, but that Turkey would never bow to the threat.
The shooting spree at the waterside Reina nightclub was unleashed when 2017 in Turkey was just 75 minutes old, after a year of unprecedented bloodshed that saw hundreds of people die in strikes blamed on Kurdish militants and jihadists and a bloody failed coup.
The assailant shot dead a policeman and a civilian at the club entrance and then went on the rampage inside where up to 700 people were ringing in the New Year.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the attacker had escaped and was now the target of a major manhunt, expressing hope the suspect “would be captured soon”.
He added that of 20 victims identified so far, 15 were foreigners and five were Turks. Another 65 people were being treated in hospital.
Many revellers threw themselves into the water in panic. Dogan news agency said the gunman was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Soylu said the gunman had arrived with a gun concealed underneath an overcoat but subsequently exited the venue wearing a different garment.
No-one has yet claimed responsibility for the bloodshed. Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya indicated there were many Arabs among the wounded. Jordan said three of its nationals mere killed while the Tunisian foreign ministry said two Tunisians lost their lives.
An Israeli woman was killed and another injured, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said at the scene on the shores of the Bosphorus that the attacker “targeted innocent people who had only come here to celebrate the New Year and have fun”.
Television pictures showed party-goers—including men in suits and women in cocktail dresses—emerging from the nightclub in a state of shock.
Erdogan said in a statement that with such attacks, “they are working to destroy our country’s morale and create chaos”.
Turkey would deploy every means to fight “terror organisations” and the countries supporting them, Erdogan said, without giving details on which groups or nations he was referring to.
The attack evoked memories of the November 2015 carnage in Paris when Islamic State jihadists went on a gun and bombing rampage on nightspots in the French capital, killing 130 people including 90 at the Bataclan concert hall.