Turkish anti-terror police detained several new suspects on Thursday in fresh raids in their hunt for the gunman that killed 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub, as authorities tightened borders to prevent the fugitive from escaping.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said the attacker was likely a Turkic Uighur and reports have indicated the authorities are looking into the possible existence of a cell, also including other jihadists from Central Asia.
In the early hours of Sunday, the gunman stormed the swanky Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus in Istanbul and sprayed 120 bullets at terrified partygoers celebrating New Year. Of the 39 dead, 27 were foreigners.
ISIS took responsibility for the massacre in a statement on Monday. The terrorist organization said it was a response to Ankara’s ambitious military operation against it in northern Syria.
Special forces detained several people suspected of links with the attack on the outskirts of Istanbul on Thursday, state-run news agency Anadolu said.
Anadolu said the detainees in the Silivri district are from China’s Uighur community. The report said that those rounded up were suspected of “aiding and abetting” the gunman.
At least 39 other people — including 11 women — are already in custody over suspected links to the attack on the nightclub.
Authorities also tightened Turkish land borders, Dogan news agency reported, over fears the killer planned to flee the country.
The agency said checkpoints would be set up to search all vehicles and people leaving the country at border crossings in Edirne, western Turkey, which has a land border with Greece and Bulgaria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the attacker had been identified but did not give a name or further details.
Kaynak told A Haber broadcaster on Thursday that the attacker was “probably” of Uighur origin as he sought to play down fears that the gunman would escape Turkey.
Most Uighurs, an eastern Turkic group, live in the Xinjiang region of China, although there are also significant populations in Central Asian states.
Previous reports had said the killer could be from Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan. Kaynak said airports had also taken important measures to ensure the killer did not escape.
Responding to some reports in local media that there was a second gunman, Kaynak said security forces were “assessing all probabilities” but that the shots were fired from one gun.
He said investigations continued into whether the gunman had help inside the club and what kind of assistance he had to prepare the attack.
Kaynak described the massacre as “sophisticated and well planned”, suggesting the gunman is part of a “well formed cell”.