Two held at Istanbul airport in connection with nightclub attack

Damien Gayle and agencies

Tuesday 3 January 2017

Two foreign nationals arrested at Atatürk airport as funerals of victims take place across Middle East

4345Two people have been arrested at an Istanbul airport in connection with the New Year’s Eve gun attack at a nightclub in the city that left 39 people dead.

As thousands of mourners turned out in cities across the Middle East for the funerals of the victims, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency said the pair, both foreign nationals, were held as they waited to board an international flight.

Police checked their phones and luggage before they taking them to Istanbul’s police headquarters, it reported.

The latest arrests, plus a further six detained on Tuesday, brought to 16 the total number of suspects held over the attack. The suspected gunman, who has not yet been named, remains at large.

A security source told Reuters the suspect in the attack, which was claimed by Islamic State, appears to have been well-versed in guerrilla warfare and may have trained in Syria. “The assailant has experience in combat for sure … he could have been fighting in Syria for years,” the source told Reuters.

Turkish media broadcast a video filmed by the suspect showing him circling Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The camera never leaves his face as he walks through the popular tourist spot during the 44-second film, which was broadcast on Anadolu television and other outlets.

Friends and relatives carry the coffin of Lian Nasser, one of the victims of the nightclub attack
Friends and relatives carry the coffin of Lian Nasser in the Acity of Tira, north of Tel Aviv, Israel. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

 

It was not immediately clear how they obtained the footage, or whether it was filmed before or after the attack.

A barman at the club told the Habertürk newspaper that the gunman threw explosive devices several times during the shooting spree, apparently to disorient people and give himself time to reload, claims corroborated by several witnesses who spoke to Reuters.

Hürriyet, another Turkish daily, described how he ranged through the kitchen and lower and upper levels of the clubs and reportedly shot victims in the head with his Kalashnikov. Only 28 of 120 bullets fired failed to hit a target, it reported.

Turkish media reported that police were seeking a 28-year-old Kyrgyz national. Kyrgyzstan’s security service said it had been in touch with Turkish authorities and that officers had questioned a man who was then released.

Turkish officials have not commented on the details of the investigation. But government spokesman Numan Kurtulmuş said on Monday that the authorities were close to identifying the gunman after gathering fingerprints and information on his appearance.

Those detained included a woman suspected of being the gunman’s wife, with whom he had stayed in the central Turkish city of Konya along with two children, the Doğan news agency said. Hürriyet said she had told police she did not know her husband to have been a member of Isis.

The Istanbul attack was the first on Turkish soil to have been claimed openly by the terrorist group.

Media reports say the suspected gunman flew to Istanbul from Kyrgyzstan with his wife and children on 20 November. From there they drove to the Turkish capital, Ankara, before arriving in Konya on 22 November.

Near the entrance to the Reina, on the shores of the Bosphorus, well-wishers have been piling up flowers at an impromptu shrine set up with pictures of the dead.

“The attacker arrived at the door and opened fire towards me,” club manager Ali Unal told AFP. “My foot slipped and I fell down, the gunshots didn’t stop.”

Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners, mainly from Arab countries, with coffins repatriated overnight to countries including Israel, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

Relatives and friends of Nawras Assaf attend his funeral in the town of Al-Fuhays near the Jordanian capital Amman
Relatives and friends of Nawras Assaf attend his funeral in Al-Fuhays near the Jordanian capital Amman. Photograph: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images

 

In Beirut, where the coffins of three victims arrived on Monday night wrapped in the Lebanese flag, hundreds turned out for the funerals of Haykal Mousallem and Elias Wardini, a 26-year-old fitness instructor who was engaged to be married. A third victim, Rita Shami, will be laid to rest on Thursday.

The bodies of the three arrived Monday night in Beirut, wrapped in red, white and green Lebanese flags. On Thursday, relatives and friends of Wardini, a 26-year-old fitness instructor who was engaged to be married, set off fireworks as his white coffin arrived at a church in the district of Ashrafieh.

In Jordan, mourners buried Nauras Assaf, 44, in the town of Fuheis. Assaf’s wife was wounded in the attack and is recovering in a hospital in Turkey. In the Israeli city of Tira thousands packed the streets for the funeral of Layan Nasser, 18, an Arab Israeli who had travelled to Istanbul to celebrate new year with friends.

“She had dreams to work, to progress, to study, to raise a family, but unfortunately the terror put an end to her dreams,” said the mayor of Tira, Mamoun Abd El Hai, of the dental assistant.

– The Guradian

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