Europe

Istanbul club attack: Eyewitnesses describe the horror

An injured woman is carried to an ambulance from a nightclub where a gun attack took place during a New Year party in Istanbul Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Dozens of injured were rushed away from the scene

Survivors of the New Year's Eve attack in Istanbul have described how a celebration turned into a massacre.

They spoke of mass panic as a gunman sprayed bullets at partygoers gathered on the Bosphorus waterfront.

At least 39 people died in the IS-claimed mass shooting at the exclusive Reina nightclub less than two hours into 2017.

Another 69 are receiving treatment for wounds in hospital as police hunt down the suspect.

Metin G, who was at Reina with friends when the gunman struck, said he saw partygoers fall to the floor as the attacker opened fire.

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Media captionEyewitness Ismail Celebi was nearby when the attack happened

He said 50 terrified bystanders had rushed to hide in the men's and women's toilets.

According to Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News, he said: "When we saw the attacker, who was scanning the bar, we went back and entered the toilet.

"As soon as the toilet was full, I locked the door. About an hour I was there. We continued to hear gunshots. Crying... you cannot even imagine the screaming."

Point-blank range

Some of the victims were shot at point-blank range, according to a forensics report quoted by the Milliyet newspaper.

Mehmet Yilan, 36, a barman at Reina for 12 years, said the attacker deliberately targeted the most crowded areas of the club.

"He stormed in and immediately headed for the people to the left, which is always more crowded... I wonder if he came here before, because he seemed to know where to go," Mr Yilan said.

He told Reuters how his manager yelled at people to run.

"He was shooting randomly, but aiming for their upper bodies. He didn't want to just injure them."

'Many fainted'

Professional footballer Sefa Boydas told AFP how he had to walk over bodies to flee the club, which he had arrived at just 10 minutes earlier.

"Just as we were settling down, by the door there was a lot of dust and smoke. Gunshots rang out. When those sounds were heard, many girls fainted."

Image copyright AP
Image caption There may have been as many as 700 people in the nightclub

He said people appeared to be crushed as they ran away from the attacker.

"They say 35 to 40 died but it's probably more because when I was walking, people were walking on top of people," said Mr Boydas, who plays for Istanbul club Beylerbeyi SK.

"My girlfriend was wearing high heels. I lifted her and carried her out on my back," he said.

'Bodies on top of me'

Club-goer Sinem Uyanik also described bodies lying on the ground. Her husband Lutfu was wounded in the attack.

"Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me," she said, speaking outside Istanbul's Sisli Hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out."

She said she had phoned ambulances and the police, who told her: "Don't move, or you'll be victims".

Her husband's condition was not said to be critical.

Image copyright Flickr: Aylamillerntor (Creative Commons)
Image caption The club has been described by some tourists as a 'must see' in Istanbul
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Flowers and pictures of the victims now lie in front of Reina
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police from Turkey's special forces are guarding the area near the club as the manhunt for the killer continues

One Lebanese survivor, Francois al-Asmar, spoke to the Lebanese channel LBCI from his hospital bed, saying his passport had saved him.

"It saved my life because I was carrying it near my heart," he claimed, with a bullet striking the document.

Cousins Yunus Turk and Yusuf Kodat, who travelled to Istanbul from Alsace, north-eastern France, managed to escape the gunman's rampage.

"I think back to those moments, I can't erase them from my memory. The people panicking, the blood, the noise of the gunshots, the explosions. That's what I keep on thinking about," Mr Kodat told AFP.

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Media captionTurkey attack survivor: "There were bodies on the floor"

Mr Turk said police who rushed to the scene led the survivors out through the basement, to spare them the horror of the main room.

"But there were already a few corpses on the terrace and there was blood everywhere and broken glass. The windows from inside going onto the terrace were broken as well," he said.

Piles of candles and floral tributes have been left outside the club in tribute to the fallen.

The club's owner Mehmet Kocarslan left a statement on Facebook saying, "Our heart is bleeding".

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