Current Situation: Islamic State (IS) claims responsibility for New Year’s shooting in Istanbul
Reports indicate that 41 people were killed and 69 more were wounded in a New Year’s shooting attack at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul’s Besiktas district during the overnight hours of December 31-January 1. Furthermore, 24 of those killed were reportedly foreign nationals. The incident transpired as an assailant armed with an assault rifle stormed the locale and opened fire at the crowd celebrating New Year’s Eve. Further reports indicate that the crowd at the club numbered in the mid to high hundreds. Following the incident, the assailant was able to escape the club. Turkish security forces have launched a search operation to locate and arrest the assailant; at the time of writing, he is still at large.
- While the situation at the nightclub itself has been contained following the New Year’s shooting, given that the assailant remains at large and is still likely armed, heightened security measures can be anticipated in the vicinity of the night club, along the waterfront, and throughout central Istanbul. Locales likely to be affected include Yildiz Park, located near the nightclub, and more central locales such as those along Istiklal Caddesi, like Taksim Square.
- Moreover, the active New Year’s shooting attack comes amidst an escalated threat of militancy in major Turkish cities, as highlighted by the December 10 twin bombing attacks carried out by the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK), near Istanbul’s Vodafone arena, which resulted in the deaths of at least 38 people. In this context, the IS claim of the attack is highly notable, as the militant group has rarely taken responsibility for such incidents in Turkey. Moreover, the attack remains more comparable to incidents carried out by IS sympathizers in Europe and the Americas, such as the June 12 active shooting attack targeting a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, thus increasing the likelihood that the shooter was inspired by IS ideology, and therefore, carried out the attack in the militant group’s name.
- In addition, it is important to note that the attack comes amidst recent calls by the jihadist group’s linked media to conduct attacks during the holiday period. For instance, in late December, a pro-IS media outlet issued a call for the group’s supporters to carry out worldwide acts of militancy against New Year’s Eve celebrations in crowded public spaces such as clubs, markets, theaters, cinemas, and malls. In light of these calls, with regards to Turkey, by encouraging such attacks, the Sunni jihadist militant group likely seeks to retaliate against Turkey’s ongoing operations in northern Syria against its fighters. Moreover, the fact that a nightclub frequented by foreign nationals was targeted may serve the jihadist group’s likely long-term strategy of deterring foreigners from traveling or investing in Turkey, thus potentially damaging the country’s national economy.
- Forecast: With this in mind, heightened security measures are likely to be recorded throughout Istanbul’s Besiktas District over the coming hours and days, in an attempt to detect and arrest the shooter. These are liable to include checkpoints, arrest raids, and heightened security presence in the vicinity of areas which are frequented by foreigners. Furthermore, there remains a potential that upon the detection of the assailant, an exchange of gunfire between security forces and the attacker will be recorded, thus potentially constituting a collateral threat to bystanders.
- Travel to Istanbul and Ankara may continue, although travelers are advised to maintain heightened vigilance in central areas due to the threat of militancy, as well as regular anti-government protests and occasional incidents of unrest in these locales. Contact us at [email protected] or +44 20-3540-0434 for itinerary and contingency support options.
- Avoid nonessential travel to the immediate vicinity of government buildings, police stations, political party offices, popular public places and shopping centers, as well as Western institutions and places frequented by Westerners, and places of worship due to the threat of militancy.
- Avoid nonessential travel to Turkey’s southern and eastern provinces, while also avoiding all travel to border areas with Syria and Iraq, given the increased risk of militancy and spillover violence.
- Additionally, it is advised to maintain heightened vigilance throughout Istanbul’s Besiktas District over the coming hours and days, given that the assailant is still at large, as well as the currently increased security measures in this area aimed at locating the perpetrator.