The Islamic State group on Monday claimed responsibility for the New Year’s attack at a popular Istanbul nightclub that killed 39 people, including one Canadian, and wounded scores of others.
Turkish police meanwhile detained eight people in connection to the attack but were still hunting for the gunman who disappeared amid the chaos of the attack.
The IS-linked Aamaq News Agency said the attack was carried out by a “heroic soldier of the caliphate” who attacked the nightclub “where Christians were celebrating their pagan feast.”
It said the man fired an automatic rifle and also detonated hand grenades in “revenge for God’s religion and in response to the orders” of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The group described Turkey as “the servant of the cross” and also suggested it was in retaliation for Turkish military offensives against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
“We let infidel Turkey know that the blood of Muslims that is being shed by its airstrikes and artillery shelling will turn into fire on its territories,” the statement said.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency said eight people were taken into custody by Istanbul anti-terrorism squads and they are being questioned at Istanbul’s main police headquarters. It did not provide further information on the suspects.
Earlier, Turkish media reports had said that Turkish authorities believed the IS group was behind the attack and that the gunman, who is still at large, is likely to be either from Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan.
According to the Hurriyet and Karar newspapers, police had also established similarities with the high-casualty suicide bomb and gun attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in June and was investigating whether the same IS cell could have carried out both attacks.
The gunman killed a policeman and another man outside the Reina club in the early hours of 2017 before entering and firing with an automatic rifle at an estimated 600 people partying inside.
Nearly two-thirds of the dead in the upscale club, which is frequented by local celebrities, were foreigners, Turkey’s Anadolu Agency said. Many of them hailed from the Middle East.
Citing Justice Ministry officials, Anadolu reported that 38 of the 39 dead have been identified. The report said 11 of them were Turkish nationals, and one was a Turkish-Belgian dual citizen.
The report says seven victims were from Saudi Arabia; three each were from Lebanon and Iraq; two each were from Tunisia, India, Morocco and Jordan. Kuwait, Canada, Israel, Syria and Russia each lost one citizen.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Sunday that a Canadian citizen was among the victims.
“It is with deep sadness that I learned of the deadly terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul that killed and injured innocent people celebrating the New Year and claimed the life of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Relatives of the victims and embassy personal were seen walking into an Istanbul morgue to claim the bodies.
Turkish officials haven’t released the names of those identified.
With files from Global News and The Associated Press