Turkish police have arrested a man they suspect of killing 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s eve, two security officials said.
The man, identified by Turkish authorities as an Uzbek acting on behalf of Islamic State, was arrested in Istanbul’s Esenyurt district, a working-class neighbourhood about 40 kilometres from the upscale Reina nightclub.
He had escaped the nightclub in a taxi after using an automatic rifle to fire at least 180 rounds in an eight-minute assault on crowds of revellers, prompting a nationwide manhunt that yielded dozens of arrests over the two weeks he remained on the run.
The attack, and the assailant’s escape, embarrassed Turkish authorities, which have kept the country under a state of emergency, with tens of thousands of extra police on the streets, to avoid such an incident.
The man’s identity was not released, and one of the security sources cautioned that the arrest was based on preliminary information, raising the possibility that the man arrested might not be the gunman. His wife, and other unidentified family members were already in custody, while the man had escaped with his son, Turkish officials said.
Isis claimed responsibility for the attack, blaming it on Turkey’s decision to engage militarily in Syria in regions held by the terrorist group.
Since August, the Turkish military has wrested the ideologically significant town of Dabiq from the group, taken back Jarablus, a border town, and is engaged in a weeks-long, brutal fight to drive the terrorist group from Al-bab, a small city with 30,000 residents about 40km south of Turkey’s border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared that he next wants to liberate Raqqa, the only large city in Syria still held by the group.
Numan Kurtulmus, deputy prime minister, told local television channels that the government suspected that the man had not acted alone, and had help from a foreign intelligence service. He did not name the country or service; his office did not respond to calls for more information on Monday.
Isis is blamed for several attacks in Turkey over the past 15 months, starting with one on Kurdish peace activists in October 2015, the deadliest in Turkish history with 103 deaths.
Since then it has been blamed for the shootings at Ataturk airport, Istanbul, and the killing of 10 tourists, mostly Germans. There have been 269 attacks blamed either on Isis or Kurdish militants that have killed at least 685 people in 2016 alone.
The Reina shootings were the first officially claimed by Isis, marking a change in its attitude towards Turkey, and were followed by an exhortation to its followers to carry out more attacks inside Turkey.
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