British tourists have been warned to “remain vigilant” in Turkey where at least 39 people were killed when a gunmen believed to have been dressed as Santa Claus opened fire at New Year’s revellers.
Around 40 others in the popular Reina nightclub in Istanbul were wounded in the “terror attack” in the early hours of Sunday, including at least 15 foreigners, according to the city’s governor Vasip Sahin.
The Foreign Commonwealth Office (FCO) said UK tourists should follow the advice of local authorities while remaining vigilant.
Sahin said the assailant, armed with a long-barrelled weapon, killed a policeman and a civilian outside the club in the Ortakoy district before entering and firing at partygoers at around 1.45am local time.
“Unfortunately (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate New Year’s and have fun,” Sahin said.
The FCO was attempting to find out whether any British nationals were injured in the attack at the club, where more than 500 revellers were seeing in 2017.
A spokesman said: “We are in touch with the local authorities following reports of an incident at a night club in Istanbul.”
Clubbers reportedly jumped into the waters of the Bosporus strait to escape, reports the Press Association.
Sinem Uyanik was inside the club with her husband who was wounded in the attack.
“Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me,” she said outside Istanbul’s Sisli Etfal Hospital. “I had to lift several bodies from top of me before I could get out. It was frightening.” Her husband was not in serious condition despite sustaining three wounds.
Police in riot gear and machine guns backed up by armored vehicle blocked the area close to the Reina night club, one of the most popular night spots in Istanbul in heavy rain. Several ambulances flashing blue lights arrived on the scene, some taking wounded to Istanbul hospitals.
The White House condemned what it called a “horrific terrorist attack” and offered U.S. help to Turkey.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama was briefed on the attack by his national security team and asked to be updated as the situation developed. Obama is vacationing in Hawaii this week with his family.
White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the attack on “innocent revelers” celebrating New Year’s shows the attackers’ savagery. He said the U.S. was sending thoughts and prayers to the relatives of those killed.
Price said the U.S. supports its NATO ally Turkey as both countries fight terrorism.
An estimated 600 people were celebrating inside the club that is also frequented by famous locals, including singers, actors and sports stars. Several shocked revelers were seen fleeing the scene after the attack and the music fell silent.
Ankara and Istanbul have been targeted by several attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State group or Kurdish rebels, killing more than 180 people.
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag vowed that Turkey would press ahead with its fight against violent groups.
“Turkey will continue its determined and effective combat to root out terror,” Bozdag said on Twitter.
The club is located close to recent suicide attacks that killed dozens near a soccer stadium.
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.