Turkish police captured the gunman who carried out the deadly New Year’s nightclub attack in Istanbul, at a hideout in an outlying suburb of the city after a two-week manhunt, officials said on Tuesday.
The alleged attacker was caught in an apartment at a housing complex in Esenyurt at around 11 pm (2000 GMT) on Monday and he confessed to the massacre.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin named the man as Abdulgadir Masharipov and said he was born in 1983 in Uzbekistan and received training in Afghanistan.
Masharipov, who was captured with four others overnight, had admitted his guilt and his fingerprints matched those at the scene, Sahin said.
Turkish news reports said Masharipov was with his 4-year-old son when he was captured, and news video showed one of the suspects being attacked at the arrest scene. The suspect identified as a Kyrgyz national was seen lying handcuffed on the ground, with a police officer’s boot holding his head down.
“He [Masharipov] knew four languages and was well-educated,” Sahin told a news conference.
There were strong indications he entered Turkey illegally through its eastern borders in January 2016 and it was clear the attack was carried out on behalf of ISIS, Sahin said.
The man was being questioned by police, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters in Ankara. Yildirim expressed hope that the interrogation would unveil the “forces” behind the attack, which killed 39 people, including a police officer and 25 foreigners. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack the next day and said in a statement that it had been carried out “in continuation of the blessed operations that the ISIS is conducting against Turkey, the protector of the cross.”
Masharipov was captured with an Iraqi man and three women from Africa, one of them from Egypt, in the Esenyurt district on Istanbul’s western outskirts, about 30 km (19 miles) from the Reina nightclub.
Two pistols, mobile phone SIM cards, and $197,000 in cash were also seized, Sahin said.
Dogan news agency published a photo of the alleged attacker with a black eye, a cut above his eyebrow and bloodstains on his face and t-shirt. It broadcast footage showing plain-clothes police leading a man in a white sweater to a waiting car.
He was being questioned at Istanbul police headquarters, while other people were detained in raids across the city targeting Uzbek ISIS cells, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
The gunman appeared to have repeatedly changed addresses before and after the attack. Remaining in Istanbul, he evaded a 16-day nationwide manhunt that included operations in cities from Izmir on the Aegean coast, to Konya in central Anatolia, and Hatay near the southern border with Syria.
“Five addresses were tracked and operations were carried out against them. He was found at one of the five addresses,” Sahin said.
It appeared Masharipov and those seized with him had moved to the Esenyurt address three days ago, he said.
Masharipov had first rented an apartment in Basaksehir, another outlying Istanbul district, before switching addresses a day or two before the attack, the Istanbul governor said.
About 50 people have been detained in raids on 152 addresses since the shooting. Investigators analysed 7,200 hours of camera footage in the search and police received more than 2,000 tip-offs, Sahin said.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, posted a Twitter message congratulating the country’s interior minister on the arrest.
Also, government spokesman and Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on social network Twitter: “I congratulate our police who caught the perpetrator of the Ortakoy massacre,”.
“Our war with terror and the powers behind it will continue to the end,” he said.
On Jan. 1, the attacker shot his way into the Reina nightclub and opened fire with an automatic rifle. He reloaded his weapon several times and shot the wounded as they lay on the ground.
Turks as well as visitors from several Arab nations, India and Canada were among those killed in the attack.
NATO member Turkey is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State and launched an incursion into neighbouring Syria in August to drive the radical Sunni militants, and Kurdish militia fighters, away from its borders.
The jihadist group has been blamed for at least half a dozen attacks on civilian targets in Turkey over the past 18 months. But, other than assassinations, the new year attack was the first it has directly claimed.
The shooting in Istanbul’s Ortakoy neighbourhood, an upscale district on the Bosphorus shore, followed a year in which Turkey was shaken by a series of attacks by radical Islamist and Kurdish militants and by a failed coup.
President Tayyip Erdogan has said the attack, which targeted a club popular with local celebrities and moneyed foreigners, had been being exploited to try to divide the largely Sunni Muslim nation.