Turkey identifies gunman in Istanbul nightclub attack that claimed 39 lives including two Indians

Istanbul: Turkey has identified the gunman in the Istanbul nightclub massacre that killed 39 people, including two Indians, the foreign minister said on Wednesday as the president vowed that the country won’t surrender to terrorists or become divided.

The gunman, who killed 39 people during New Year’s celebrations at the Reina club, is still at large. But Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said authorities had identified the man, without providing details.

“The identity of the person who carried out the attack on the Reina nightclub has been established,” Cavusoglu told Anadolu in a live televised interview.

Turkish police, meanwhile, detained at least five suspected Islamic State group militants believed to be linked to the attack, the state-run news agency reported. The operation was launched in the Aegean port city of Izmir and was ongoing, Anadolu Agency said.

IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded nearly 70 people. Of those killed 27 were foreigners, many from the Middle East. Islamic State said a “soldier of the caliphate” had carried out the mass shooting to avenge Turkish military operations against IS in northern Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the attack aims to set Turks against each other and deepen fault lines, but the country won’t fall for this game.

Erdogan made the comments in a live speech from Ankara, the first time he has publicly addressed the nation since the attack.

Responding to accusations in the past that Turkey had given support to the Islamic State group, Erdogan said that “to present the country which is leading the greatest struggle against Daesh as one supporting terrorism is what the terror organization wants.”

Erdogan said that “in Turkey, no one’s way of life is under any threat. Those who claim this have to prove it. It is my duty to protect everyone’s rights.”

He also said that “to say Turkey has surrendered to terrorism is to take sides with the terrorists and terror organisations.”

Police in Istanbul have set up checkpoints and are checking vehicles across the city as security levels remained high. Police were stopping cars and Istanbul’s ubiquitous yellow taxis, with passengers and drivers holding up their identifications while officers inspected inside the vehicles.

Istanbul has been on high alert since the attack, with the gunman still at large.

The private Dogan news agency said that today’s police operation targeted three families who had arrived in Izmir about 20 days ago from Konya a city in central Turkey where the gunman is thought to have been based before carrying out the nightclub attack. It said 27 people, including women and children, were taken into custody.

At least 14 people were previously detained in connection with the attack, including two foreigners stopped yesterday at the international terminal of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after police checked their cellphones and luggage, according to Anadolu.

Funerals were held in Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Turkey for the dead and today, a Turkish Airlines jet carrying the bodies of two Indian citizens killed in the shooting landed in Mumbai.