Turkish police have detained eight people in connection with the deadly shooting at an Istanbul nightclub after Isis claimed responsibility for the attack on a New Year’s Eve party that left 39 people dead and more than 65 wounded.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the gunman, who went on the run after the attack, was not among the eight who were being questioned at Istanbul’s main police headquarters.
In a statement issued on Monday, Isis said “a heroic soldier of the caliphate” had struck against Reina nightclub, describing the exclusive venue as a place where “the Christians celebrate their apostate holiday”.
The militant group described Turkey as a protector of the cross and said the attack was an act of punishment for Ankara’s operations in Syria, where the country’s armed forces have stepped up efforts to force Isis from the northern city of al-Bab.
“Let the heretical Turkish government know this,” the statement said. “By spilling Muslim blood with warplanes and artillery, fires will — with God’s permission — ignite on your own lands.”
Despite a spate of deadly attacks attributed to Isis, including a triple suicide bombing at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport that killed 47 people in June, the jihadi group has only once previously claimed responsibility for attacks on Turkish soil. That came after a bombing that killed at least nine people in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir in November, an attack that was also claimed by Kurdish militants.
The claim comes as the group faces growing pressure not only from the international coalition battling to reclaim the Iraqi city of Mosul from the group’s fighters but also from Turkey, which has been detaining alleged Isis cells in Turkey and has increased security along its 900km border with Syria.
The Isis statement, issued via one of the group’s channels on the messaging tool Telegram, said the attacker had used a hand grenade and automatic weapon to gun down partygoers. The assailant is being hunted by Turkish police after escaping from the scene of the attack, which also injured 69 people.
The attack on the nightclub, which came little more than an hour into 2017, followed one of the most troubled years in Turkey’s recent history. Last year was marred by a string of terrorist attacks by both Kurdish and Isis militants, including several targeting tourist sites and one at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
Turkish security services also initiated a vast operation against alleged members of the Gulen movement, the group accused of being behind the coup attempt that rocked the country in July. As well as raising concerns among human rights groups, the government’s campaign to purge alleged Gulenists from the state apparatus, including the police force, has prompted fears about security weaknesses.
The turmoil of the past 12 months has badly damaged Turkey’s tourism sector and sent the lira to record lows against the dollar, compounding fears about vulnerabilities in the country’s economy.