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Selfie of an unsmiling face: More details emerge about Istanbul suspect

Turkish state media aired new footage on Tuesday of a man believed to be the gunman who killed 39 people at a nightclub, showing a grim selfie video of the suspect as he circles Istanbul’s most famous square. The camera never leaves the man’s unsmiling face as he walks through Taksim square, one of Istanbul’s prime tourist spots, during the 44-second video broadcast on state-run Anadolu television and other media.

world Updated: Jan 03, 2017 21:57 IST
Agencies
In this undated photo a man believed to be the gunman who killed dozens at an Istanbul nightclub, films himself and the street behind him as he wanders nearby Istanbul’s crowded Taksim square. (AP Photo)
In this undated photo a man believed to be the gunman who killed dozens at an Istanbul nightclub, films himself and the street behind him as he wanders nearby Istanbul’s crowded Taksim square. (AP Photo)

Turkish state media aired new footage on Tuesday of a man believed to be the gunman who killed 39 people at a nightclub, showing a grim selfie video of the suspect as he circles Istanbul’s most famous square.

The camera never leaves the man’s unsmiling face as he walks through Taksim square, one of Istanbul’s prime tourist spots, during the 44-second video broadcast on state-run Anadolu television and other media.

It wasn’t immediately clear if it was filmed before or after the New Year’s massacre at the Reina nightclub, or how the footage was obtained. The gunman, who hasn’t been publicly identified, is still at large.

The Islamic State group claimed the attack on Monday, saying a “soldier of the caliphate” had carried out the mass shooting to avenge Turkish military operations against IS in northern Syria.

Read: The Istanbul attack proves 2017 will not improve Turkey’s fortunes

At least 16 people have been detained in connection with the attack. Two foreigners were detained at Ataturk airport’s international terminal on Tuesday after police checked their cellphones and luggage, according to Anadolu. The attackers is on the run.

Hurriyet newspaper said a woman identified by Turkish media as the wife of the massacre suspect has told police she didn’t know her husband was an IS member.

The woman was detained in the central town of Konya as part of the investigation. Neither she nor her husband has been identified by name. Hurriyet said on its online edition that the woman said she learned about the attack on television and told police she didn’t know her husband harbored “sympathies toward” IS.

Pictures of victims of the New Year's Day attack on an Istanbul nightclub lie on Turkish national flags and flowers in front of the Reina nightclub on January 3. (AFP)

Media reports say the gunman flew to Istanbul from Kyrgyzstan with his wife and children on November 20. From there, they drove to the Turkish capital, Ankara, before arriving in Konya on November 22.

The family rented a studio in Konya, paying three months of rent upfront. The gunman told the real estate agent he had arrived in Konya in search of work, according to the report.

Hurriyet said the gunman returned to Istanbul December 29.

Well-trained?

Reports said police have made progress in the investigation after speaking to the taxi driver who drove the attacker to the club and tracing calls he had made on the driver’s mobile phone.

The Hurriyet daily said the attacker showed signs of being well trained in the use of arms and had fought in Syria for IS jihadists.

Hurriyet’s well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi he had been trained in street fighting in residential areas in Syria and used these techniques in the attack, shooting from the hip rather than as a sniper.

The attacker had been “specially selected” to carry out the shooting, he said. According to Hurriyet, just 28 bullets failed to hit a target.

“This specially-trained terrorist has still not been detained and is still wandering dangerously amongst us,” he wrote.

He said an IS strike was also planned in Ankara on New Year’s eve but that it had been prevented after eight IS suspects were arrested in the capital. There were no further details.

Read: Two Indians among Istanbul nightclub attack victims: Sushma Swaraj

People pray next to the coffin of Mohamed Elhot, one of the victims of the Reina night club attack, during his funeral ceremony on January 3 in Istanbul. (AFP)

Mystery remains

Several media outlets on Monday, citing unnamed security sources, said the man was believed to be from Central Asia and may have been part of the cell that staged a June attack on Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport that killed 45 people.

Reports said that the attacker could be from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. In Bishkek, the national security council said it was checking any possible involvement of a Kyrgyz citizen.

Haber Turk newspaper on Tuesday said the man is thought to be a member of China’s Muslim Uighur minority. A Kyrgyz passport circulated on Turkish media but police said it did not belong to the gunman.

The nightclub assailant, armed with a long-barreled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian in the early hours of 2017 outside the club before opening fire on the estimated 600 people inside. The establishment is frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and athletes. Most of the dead on Sunday were foreign tourists.

Turkey has been rocked by violence in the past year, carried out by IS as well as by Kurdish militants. The government survived a failed coup over the summer and is fighting against Kurdish insurgents. Parliament votes Tuesday on whether to extend the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt.

The country launched an offensive to northern Syria in August in hopes of clearing a strategic border area of IS militants and stemming the gains of Kurdish fighters. Turkish jets regularly bomb IS targets in the Syrian town of al-Bab in support of Syrian opposition forces try to re-capture it from the extremists.

Turkey’s interior minister told parliament Tuesday that authorities thwarted a total of 339 possible attacks in 2016, including 313 planned attempts by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and 22 by the Islamic State group.