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Istanbul Nightclub Attack Kills 39

At least 16 foreigners were among 39 people people killed in the gun attack on an Istanbul club during New Year festivities, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Sunday.

Soylu said in televised comments that of 21 victims who have been identified so far, 16 are foreigners and five are Turks. Another 69 people are being treated in hospital for their wounds.

Indicating that the attacker was still at large, Soylu said: "The search for the terrorist continues... I hope (the assailant) will be captured quickly, God willing."

Dogan news agency said there were two gunmen dressed in Santa Claus outfits.

Television pictures showed the New Year party-goers — including men in suits and women in cocktail dresses — emerging out of the nightclub in a state of shock.

Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin said the attack started at 1:15 am local time just after the revellers had seen in the New Year.

"What happened today is a terror attack," he added.

The governor did not specify the fate of the attacker or if there had been more than one protagonist.

Many party-goers threw themselves into the Bosphorus in panic after the attack and efforts were underway to rescue them from the waters, NTV television said.

Dogan news agency reported that some witnesses claimed the attackers were "speaking Arabic" while NTV broadcaster said special force police officers were still searching the nightclub.

TV images showed the scene cordoned off by police officers. According to Dogan, there were at least 700 revellers celebrating the start of 2017 at the club.

The nightclub in the Ortakoy district of Istanbul is one of the most elite spots in the city, and getting past the bouncers who seek out only the best dressed is notoriously hard.

Turkey has been hit by a string of attacks in recent months blamed on Kurdish militants and Islamic State jihadists.

On December 10, 44 people were killed in a double bombing in Istanbul after a football match hosted by top side Besiktas.

That attack, which targeted a police bus, was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) seen as a radical offshoot of the PKK.

A week later, fourteen Turkish soldiers were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide car bombing blamed on Kurdish militants targeting off-duty conscripts also claimed by the TAK.

"No terror attack will destroy our unity, or eradicate our fraternity or weaken Turkey's effective fight against terror," Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote on Twitter.

The recent spike in violence has capped a bloody 2016 in Turkey which saw more attacks than any other in the history of the country.

Turkey is still reeling from a failed July 15 coup blamed by the government on the US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen that has been followed by a relentless purge of his alleged supporters from state institutions.

"Tragic start to 2017 in Istanbul. My thoughts are with those affected by the attack on people celebrating New Year and with the Turkish people," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter.

The White House condemned what it said was a "horrific" attack and its "savagery."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is in Istanbul for the New Year, had been informed of the attack, local media said.

The attack also came as the Turkish army is waging a four-month incursion in Syria to oust IS jihadists and Kurdish militants from the border area, taking increasing casualties.

Amid fears of another attack in Istanbul, at least 17,000 police officers were deployed in the city for this year's New Year's Eve celebrations.

Some officers, as is customary in Turkey, dressed themselves as Santa Claus as cover, television reports on the deployment ahead of the New Year had showed.

- AFP

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