Istanbul terror attack: Police detain eight after Isis claims nightclub massacre

Brutal assault lasted seven minutes, in which time attacker fired more than 100 bullets into crowd of people celebrating New Year's Eve

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The Independent Online

Turkish police are hunting for the chief suspect who carried out a mass shooting at a nightclub in Istanbul and have detained eight people in connection with the attack.

Isis claimed responsibility after a gunman opened fire at a crowd of hundreds of people celebrating New Year's Eve at the Reina nightclub, killing at least 39 people and injuring dozens more.

The group's Amaq news agency said the attack was carried out by a "heroic soldier of the caliphate" who attacked the nightclub "where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast."

It said the man fired an automatic rifle and also detonated hand grenades in "revenge for God's religion and in response to the orders" of Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. 

Footage of Istanbul attack and aftermath

The gunman killed a policeman and another man outside the Reina club in the early hours of 2017, before entering and firing at an estimated 600 people partying inside.

The brutal assault lasted seven minutes, in which time the attacker fired more than 100 bullets into the crowd.

It is thought he then changed his clothes and disappeared.

Police are tracing and are yet to identify the suspect, shown here in a police handout picture (AFP/Getty Images)

Local reports said some people jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus strait to escape the massacre.

Citing Justice Ministry officials, the Anadolu news agency reported that 38 of the 39 dead have been identified.

The report said 11 of them were Turkish nationals, and one was a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen. 

It adds that seven victims were from Saudi Arabia; three each were from Lebanon and Iraq; two each were from Tunisia, India, Morocco and Jordan. Kuwait, Canada, Israel, Syria and Russia each lost one citizen. 

Medics carry a wounded person after an attack at a popular nightclub in Istanbul (AP)

Police in Istanbul are understood to have launched an operation in the city in connection with the attack.

Police, acting on a tip-off, were carrying out an operation at a home in Istanbul's Zeytinburnu neighbourhood, Haber Turk news channel reported.

The private Dogan news agency said the operation was being carried out by special operations police with backing from a helicopter.

Earlier Turkish authorities have said they are close to identifying the gunman and have detained eight other people, the government's spokesman said.

"Information about the fingerprints and basic appearance of the terrorist have been found. In the process after this, work to identify him swiftly will be carried out," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told a news conference.

He said it was clear Turkey's military incursion into Syria, launched in August, had annoyed terror groups and those behind them — but said the offensive would continue until all threats to Turkey were removed.

Turkey sent tanks and special forces into Syria just over four months ago to push back Isis militants from its border and prevent Kurdish militia fighters from taking ground in their wake.

Mr Kurtulmus also said Sunday's attack bore significant differences to previous attacks in Turkey and that it had been carried out to create divisions within Turkish society.

People near the scene of an attack in Istanbul (AP)

There were reports that the gunman had dressed as Father Christmas, but Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said later: "There is no truth to this. He is an armed terrorist as we know."

Witnesses said the man had spoken in Arabic, suggesting he was not Turkish. 

Earlier, Turkish media reports said the gunman is likely to be either from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry said it was looking into the media reports.

"We have ordered the consul in Istanbul the check this report that has appeared in the press," the Interfax news agency quoted ministry spokeswoman Aiymkan Kulukeyeva as saying on Monday.

"According to preliminary information, this information is doubtful but we are checking all the same." 

Police have identified similarities with the high-casualty attack at Ataturk Airport in June, and are investigating whether the same Isis cell carried out both attacks, the Hurriyet and Karar newspapers report.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country was determined to destroy the source of threats against it.

“As a nation, we will fight to the end against not just the armed attacks of terror groups and the forces behind them, but also against their economic, political and social attacks," he said in a statement.

“They are trying to create chaos, demoralise our people and destabilise our country with abominable attacks that target civilians.

“We will retain our cool-headedness as a nation, standing more closely together, and we will never give ground to such dirty games.”

Additional reporting by agencies