Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said at least 35 have died and at least 40 were wounded in an armed attack on the Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy district of Istanbul barely one hour after Turkey rang in the new year.
"Unfortunately, at least 35 of our citizens lost their lives. One was a police officer. Forty people are receiving treatment in hospitals," Sahin told reporters at the nightclub.
Sahin described the incident as a terror attack, adding, "a terrorist with a long-range weapon...brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets on innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun." Sahin did not say what group might have been involved. There were hundreds of people celebrating the new year in the nightclub when the attack occurred.
One witness told the Associated Press she saw bodies in the nightclub following the attack. "Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me," said the witness outside Istanbul's Sisli hospital. "I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out." The witness' husband was not in serious condition.
Broadcaster CNN Türk and German press agency dpa said the attack was carried out by at least two attackers who were wearing Santa Claus outfits who opened fire with automatic weapons. There are reports that one attacker is still inside the building. Turkish special forces were searching the building in order to catch the attacker, according to Turkish broadcaster NTV.
The Reina nightclub stands near the Ataturk bridge on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait that splits Istanbul in two. Some celebrating New Year's at the nightclub jumped into the frigid water to avoid the attack. Rescue crews are working to rescue those who jumped into the strait.
Turkish authorities imposed a temporary blackout on coverage of the attack, which prevents media organizations from broadcasting or publishing anything that includes the "moment of attack; aftermath of the attack and site of the crime; public servants conducting their jobs; injured and dead."
Security was high in Istanbul following a year filled with violent attacks by the so-called Islamic State (IS) or Kurdish groups that killed more than 180 people. At least 17,000 police officers were on duty for New Year's celebrations in Turkey's largest city, some under cover as street vendors or Santa Claus.
Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdag tweeted "this is a cowardly and cruel terrorist attack against our Turkey, our peace, our unity, our brotherhood and all of us."
United States President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack and offered US help to Turkish authorities, according to the White House. "The president expressed condolences for the innocent lives lost, directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to the Turkish authorities, as necessary, and keep him updated as warranted," said White House spokesman Eric Schultz in a statement. The White House also called the incident a terror attack and condemned it "in the strongest terms," according to National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement.
The US and Turkey are members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted "my thoughts are with those affected by the attack on people celebrating New Year and with the Turkish people."
(The article was first published on DW. You can read the original article here.)