ISIS claims responsibility for Istanbul nightclub attack

The New York Times– The Islamic State issued a rare claim of responsibility on Monday for an attack in Turkey, saying in a statement that the shooting early on New Year’s Day at an Istanbul nightclub that killed at least 39 people was carried out by “a hero soldier of the caliphate.”

The authorities are still searching for the gunman, who killed a police officer guarding the club before going on a shooting rampage with a rapid-fire rifle at the Reina nightclub, but the state news media reported that eight suspects had been detained in connection with the attack.

In the statement, the militant group said that the attack had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the Islamic State is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross.”

“A hero soldier of the caliphate attacked one of the most famous nightclubs, where Christians celebrated their pagan holiday,” read the statement from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. “They used hand grenades and a machine gun and transformed their celebration to mourning.”

In an apparent reference to Turkey’s role in the conflict in Syria, the statement warned that “the government of Turkey should know that the blood of Muslims, which it is targeting with its planes and its guns, will cause a fire in its home by God’s will.”

Although it was not clear whether the Islamic State had organized the attack or the gunman was simply inspired by the militant group, the shooting came just days after a pro-Islamic State group called the Nashir Media Foundation published the latest in a series of messages calling for attacks on clubs, markets and movie theaters.

The Islamic State’s claim of responsibility came after years of complex relations between the Turkish state and the jihadist group operating across its southern border. Several terrorist attacks in Turkey over the past year have been attributed to the Islamic State, but the militant group rarely claims responsibility for major attacks in the country.

A rare exception came in November, when the group claimed to be behind a deadly car bombing in southeastern Turkey.

Analysts said that the Islamic State has, so far, walked a fine line in Turkey, trying to balance its goal of destabilizing the country without antagonizing the government to the extent that it would crack down heavily.

For years, Turkey looked the other way, according to analysts and regional diplomats, as jihadist groups moved fighters and supplies across the border, establishing deep networks in Turkish border towns.

Committed to supporting the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Turkey felt the jihadists could be managed while they fought with forces loyal to the Syrian government.

But that policy ultimately changed, as Turkey worked to secure its borders, under pressure from its allies as it took in millions of Syrian refugees and as terrorist attacks rocked the country.

Turkey launched a military intervention in northern Syria in August that put its forces on the front lines against Kurdish militants as well as Islamic State fighters. This turned the jihadists decidedly against Turkey, prompting their leaders to call for attacks there.

The Turkish military said on Monday that it had struck Islamic State targets in Syria, killing at least 22 militants.

American intelligence officials had recently expressed concern about a possible attack in Turkey, warning in a statement on Dec. 22 that extremist groups were “continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks throughout Turkey” in areas where American citizens and expatriates lived or visited.

That warning came three days after a gunman, described by Turkish officials as a 22-year-old off-duty police officer, assassinated Andrey G. Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in the capital, Ankara. The gunman shouted “God is great!” and “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” during the attack, which was captured on video.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said that 38 of the 39 people who died in the attack on Sunday had been identified, The Associated Press reported.

According to the Anadolu report, which cited an unidentified Justice Ministry official, 27 of the victims were foreigners, 11 were Turkish and one had dual Turkish and Belgian citizenship.

Seven victims came from Saudi Arabia; Iraq and Lebanon each had three citizens among the dead; India, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia each had two; and Canada, Israel, Kuwait, Russia and Syria each had one.