Uzbek man confesses to killing 39 in Istanbul nightclub attack
ISTANBUL // An Uzbek man, 34, confessed on Tuesday to slaughtering 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
Abdulgadir Masharipov was captured in a police raid after 17 days on the run. Three women and an Iraqi man were also arrested during a massive operation involving 2,000 police officers in Istanbul.
“The terrorist confessed his crime,” Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said. He said fingerprints retrieved by forensics teams matched those of the attacker.
The governor said Masharipov was trained in Afghanistan, speaks four languages and is believed to have first entered Turkey illegally via its eastern border in January, 2016
“He is a well-trained terrorist,” Mr Sahin said.
Masharipov’s wife and daughter were detained in Istanbul on January 12. He is thought to have been with his four-year-old son at the time of his arrest. Photos showed Masharipov with a bruised eye and blood on his face and shirt, his neck gripped by a police officer.
ISIL in Turkey
Police also confiscated 185,000 euros, two firearms and clips during the raid on an apartment.
The arrest came as a relief to Istanbul residents who were already on edge after several attacks in the city and who had feared for more than a two weeks that a trained killer was on the loose.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the arrest and congratulated the security forces.
“From now on in this country, nobody will get away with what they have done,” he said. “Everyone will be brought to account within the rule of law.”
After the attack on the Reina nightclub, which was claimed by ISIL, Masharipov had apparently slipped into the night. Security at the border was tightened but he did not leave Turkey. Instead, he was hiding in the working-class, densely populated western districts of Istanbul. The police eventually traced him to an apartment in the residential Esenyurt district.
An Iraqi man was also detained with him, as well as three women – one an Egyptian citizen and two others from African states.
Police allowed reporters into the apartment, which had been turned upside down during the 20 minute raid. Drawers had been flung open and clothes thrown on the floor, but there were also tantalising glimpses of daily life, such as handwritten notes and a half-eaten loaf of bread.
Neighbours were shocked to discover they had been living next to the most wanted man in Turkey. “It is like a nightmare, this man was living under the same roof and we didn’t know it,” said neighbour Sezen Aras.
Ali Haydar Demir knew something was wrong when he heard a commotion at around midnight in his apartment block on 911 Street in Esenyurt. “I heard a noise and went out – I thought someone was stuck in the lift. Then I saw the police in the corridor, and they told me to go inside,” he said. In fact, Mr Demir had stumbled upon the final preparations in the operation to capture Masharipov, who was living on the same floor.
There had been confusion over the attacker’s identity after the massacre, with reports initially suggesting a Kyrgyz national and then a Uighur from China was responsible.
But authorities later identified him as a 34-year-old Uzbek who was part of a Central Asian ISIL cell using the code name Ebu Muhammed Horasani.
Police released images taken from a chilling silent video he filmed with a selfie stick in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, before carrying out the attack.
The police are thought to have identified his location three days before the arrest, but delayed the raid so they could track his movements and his contacts.
The investigation had also focused on the central Turkish city of Konya where the attacker lived for several weeks after returning from Syria before moving to Istanbul.
Fifty people have now been detained in the investigation as a result of raids on 152 locations.
Of the 39 killed in the Reina nightclub, 27 were foreigners. They included citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco.
Although ISIL had been blamed for several previous terrorist attacks, including the triple suicide bombings at Istanbul airport last June, this was the first time the group had openly admitted a major attack in Turkey. It said it was in retaliation for Turkish military operations in northern Syria.
Capturing the attacker alive is a major victory for the Turkish security forces as he may be able to shed light on the existence of other ISIL cells in the city.
Prime minister Binali Yildirim said: “What matters is the capture of the perpetrator of this vile attack and exposing the powers behind him.”