Turkey has identified the gunman in the Istanbul nightclub massacre, the foreign minister said 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 20 suspected Islamic State group militants, including 11 women, believed to be linked to the attack, the state-run news agency reported. The operation was launched in the Aegean port city of Izmir.
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.
The private Dogan news agency said that Wednesday’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 16 people were previously detained in connection with the attack, including two foreigners stopped Tuesday at the international terminal of Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after police checked their cellphones and luggage, according to Anadolu.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the attack aimed to set Turks against each other and deepen fault lines, but that the country would not 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 that is supporting terrorism is what the terror organization wants.”
Erdogan said that “to say Turkey has surrendered to terrorism is to take sides with the terrorists and terror organizations.”
Erdogan also 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.”
It was in response to a campaign before the attack by some government supporters who warned against New Year’s celebrations they depicted as a Western or Christian tradition, as well as some social media postings that seemed to support the attack. The campaign and social media postings caused uproar amid secular Turks who said their lifestyles were being threatened. The government has said authorities were taking measures against social media accounts that allegedly “support terrorism and foster divisiveness in society.”
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.
Story by The Associated Press