A man suspected of shooting dead 39 people in a New Year’s Eve attack on a nightclub in Istanbul
is an Uzbek national who trained in Afghanistan
officials have said.
Abdulkadir Masharipov was captured late on Monday in a raid by security forces on a house in Esenyurt, a residential district of Istanbul, 25 miles from where the attack took place.
In the last two weeks dozens of people across Turkey
have been detained and questioned in connection with the assault at the Reina nightclub, which was claimed by Islamic State in revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria
Istanbul’s governor, Vasip Şahin, said Masharipov was well educated, spoke four languages and had operated under the alias Ebu Muhammed Horasani. He said the suspect had trained in Afghanistan, entered Turkey in January 2016 and clearly carried out the attack in the name of Isis.
On the night of the attack the gunman arrived by taxi at the nightclub in the Ortaköy district and shot dead a 21-year-old police officer, Burak Yıldız, and Ayhan Arık, a 47-year-old travel agent who had been walking past the entrance.
He then went inside and started spraying the club with bullets. The attacker repeatedly reloaded his weapon to shoot the wounded as they lay on the ground. Citizens of Israel
, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were among the victims, and 70 people were injured.
A Turkish counter-terrorism official told the Guardian the security officers who located Masharipov had worked on finding individuals connected with the suspect after identifying him and confirming who he was thanks to a foreign intelligence agency.
Officers then worked to trace his movements in recent days, deploying “all the resources” at the disposal of the security services. There were raids or checks on about 150 addresses associated with Masharipov, detentions of a few dozen individuals possibly linked with him, and a review of approximately 7,200 hours of surveillance footage. “They did a good job of connecting the dots,” the official said.
The official said the investigation would now focus on Masharipov’s accomplices – who are other members of his cell, who gave him instructions and picked the target, who provided him with weapons, and are they are planning other attacks in the country.
“This is obviously a network of people, and they’re trying to establish what that network is about,” the official said, indicating that initial assessments favoured the theory that Masharipov had received instructions rather than acted alone. “We haven’t fully assessed the target selection. Was he advised by someone? Who did the target selection? He didn’t do it opportunistically.”
The official said the fact that Masharipov, born in Fergana, Uzbekistan, was not on an Interpol watchlist and did not come from Syria highlighted the need for better intelligence sharing.
“When you think about how did it happen, it’s a classic soft-target attack and the best prevention is intelligence, particularly since he’s not a Turkish citizen,” the official said. “This guy, although he was known to have terrorist ties, wasn’t on Interpol, and anybody who knew him didn’t report him to us either.”
The militant group he trained with in Afghanistan has yet to be identified.
Few Isis militants who have carried out attacks in the Europe or the US have been interrogated in the aftermath, most engaging in a suicidal effort, and there have been fewer still whose interrogations could yield information on attacks in the planning stages.
The official said another piece of the puzzle in Masharipov’s case was identifying his motivation for staying alive. “He had money and family. He’s not a suicide fighter so there are questions about motivation and ideology,” the official said.
Şahin said Masharipov had confessed to carrying out the massacre and that his fingerprints matched those of the attacker. He can be held for up to 30 days under Turkey’s state of emergency, which was introduced after a failed coup attempt in July, before he is charged and formally arrested.
Four people were arrested with Masharipov, Şahin said. “An Iraqi man was detained as well as three women from various countries from Egypt
and from Africa
. There is a high chance that they may be connected [to Isis] because they were staying in the same house.”
After fleeing the scene of the massacre, it is believed the gunman initially hid in a safehouse, where he was joined by his wife and children.
The newspaper Hürriyet said on Tuesday that the suspect’s wife and one-year-old daughter were caught in a police operation in Zeytinburnu, a working-class district of Istanbul, on 12 January.
The Turkish television channel NTV said the suspect’s son had been taken into protective custody. It said police had established the gunman’s whereabouts four or five days ago but delayed the raid so they could monitor his movements and contacts.
The Turkish counter-terrorism official said Masharipov tried to resist his arrest during the raid, but didn’t have the chance to fetch the weapons he had stashed in the house when he was captured, so officers were able to subdue him without a gunfight.