At least one gunman dressed as Santa has attacked a night club in Istanbul, killing and injuring scores of people, Turkish media report. Footage shows armored police vehicles surrounding the building as ambulances are rushed to the scene.
At least 35 people were killed and 40 wounded in the attack, Istanbul’s governor Vasip Şahin said, calling the incident a terrorist attack.
The attack took place at the well-known Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy neighborhood, in Istanbul’s Besiktas district.
“A terrorist with a long-range weapon… brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets at innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun,” Sahin told media at the scene of the attack.
Previously, it was reported that two gunmen were involved in the attack.
Speaking about the circumstances of the attack, Şahin said that the assailant first killed the police officer, who was standing at the door of the club, and then went on a rampage inside, killing innocent civilians.
Eyewitnesses at the club said that the attacker was speaking Arabic, Turkish media are reporting.
The gunman was dressed in Santa Claus outfits, wielding assault rifle, Turkish media said.
The attacker opened fire on clubgoers, injuring at least 20-30, according to NTV. One of the gunmen has reportedly hidden inside the club, while the whereabouts of the second one were not immediately clear.
The number of casualties may rise, as it is estimated that between 700 and 800 people could have been in the club at the time of the attack, Mynet Haber reports.
Emergency crews have been evacuating injured people from the building as police search the area.
After the attacker stormed into the building, some club-goers jumped into the sea in panic, Turkish media cited eyewitnesses as saying. A search and rescue operation for those who jumped in the water is being carried out by maritime police.
The owner of the Reina’s nightclub, Mehmet Koçarslan, has claimed that the club had been warned about a possible attack, and that the information came from US intelligence services. Security measures had been taken, he added.
“US intelligence warned about such an attack about one week or 10 days ago – and measures have been taken, including [on] the sea front. And look what has happened,” Koçarslan told Turkish daily Hurriyet.
US President Barack Obama has offered to help Turkey with the investigation, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement, saying that Obama “directed his team to offer appropriate assistance to the Turkish authorities.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been informed of the terrorist attack and is being updated on the latest developments in the situation, CNN Turk reports.
Messages of condolence have been pouring in for Turkey in the aftermath of the attack.
“Our thoughts are with victims and their loved ones. We continue to work to prevent these tragedies,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini published in Twitter message.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the attack “a tragic start to 2017.”
He posted on Twitter: “My thoughts are with those affected by the attack on people celebrating New Year and with the Turkish people.”
Apple’s CEO Tim Cook extended his condolences to the Turkish people in another Twitter post, this one penned in Turkish.
“Dear Turkey, we share your pain and sorrow. Istanbul, our heart is with you,” the message read.