Police in Istanbul are hunting for a gunman who opened fire at a well-known nightclub, killing at least 39 people.
The attack happened at Reina nightclub early this morning (Sunday), as hundreds of revellers marked the new year.
Officials say some 15 foreigners were killed, including citizens from Israel, France, Tunisia, Lebanon, India, Belgium, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The attacker left his gun before “taking advantage of the chaos” and fleeing the scene, Turkey’s PM said.
Binali Yildirim also confirmed the gunman was not dressed as Santa Claus, contradicting earlier reports.
The attack unfolded some 75 minutes into the new year as around 700 people gathered in the waterside Reina club, one of Istanbul’s most upmarket venues.
The attacker shot dead a policeman and a security guard at the entrance before heading into the club, which is popular with celebrities and foreigners.
Eyewitnesses described seeing dozens of bodies lying on the floor. Some revellers reportedly threw themselves into the Bosphorus to escape the carnage.
“Gunshots rang out. When those sounds were heard, many girls fainted,” professional footballer Sefa Boydas told AFP news agency.
He said people appeared to be crushed as they ran away. “They say 35 to 40 died but it’s probably more because when I was walking, people were walking on top of people.”
At least 69 people are being treated in hospital, officials said, with three in a serious condition.
The motive for the attack is not clear, but suspicion has fallen on the Islamic State group.
US President Barack Obama, who is on holiday in Hawaii, offered condolences “for the innocent lives lost” and offered “appropriate assistance”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the “cynical” murder of civilians. “Our shared duty is to decisively rebuff terrorist aggression,” he said.
Turkey and Russia are working together on efforts to end the fighting in Syria, though they support different sides in the conflict.
Istanbul was already on high alert with some 17,000 police officers on duty in the city, following a string of terror attacks in recent months. (Excerpts from BBC)