At least 35 people were killed and more than 40 others wounded during New Year's celebrations Saturday after a gunman dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at an Istanbul nightclub, Turkish state media reports.
Provincial Gov. Vasip Sahin has described the incident as a terrorist attack.
"A terrorist with a long-range weapon ... brutally and savagely carried out this incident by firing bullets on innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun," Sahin told reporters.
The attack occurred at Reina, one of the city's most popular nightclubs, where it's believed some 500-600 revelers were celebrating the start of the New Year. Reuters reports that the attacker shot at a police officer and at civilians before entering the nightclub. Many inside were said to have jumped into the neighboring Bosphorus waterway in an attempt to save themselves from the gunfire.
According to the Associated Press, several ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to the scene, an area described as "on the shore of the Bosphorus Strait in the Ortakoy district." The cosmopolitan neighborhood is home to many clubs, restaurants and art galleries.
"Security measures had been heightened in major Turkish cities, with police barring traffic leading up to key squares in Istanbul and the capital Ankara. In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were put on duty, some camouflaged as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, state news agency Anadolu reported."
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This latest attack comes just two weeks after Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot dead by off-duty Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas and three weeks after a bomb attack killed 44 people at a football stadium in Istabul. A Kurdish militant group claimed responsibility for the latter.
Turkey, which is part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has faced numerous security threats. In all, there have been at least six attacks in Turkey this year, claiming more than 200 lives.
Meantime, the White House is condemning the attacking, calling it a "horrific terrorist attack" and offering to assist Turkey.
According to the AP, White House spokesman Eric Schultz says President Obama — who's vacationing with his family in Hawaii — was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation develops."
The AP adds:
"White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price says the attack on 'innocent revelers' celebrating New Year's shows the attackers' savagery. He says the U.S. sends thoughts and prayers to the relatives of those killed.
Price says the U.S. supports its NATO ally Turkey as both countries fight terrorism."
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