Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order

Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order

Istanbul Reina attacker ‘switched target’ after Raqqa order An Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militant who killed 39 people while wounding 65 others in a nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district on Jan. 1 took the orders to stage the attack from an ISIL emir in Syria’s Raqqa, according to Turkish authorities. 

Abdulkadir Masharipov, the 34-year-old ISIL militant who was apprehended by Turkish police late on Jan. 16 after two weeks on the run, said he initially went to Istanbul’s Taksim Square to stage an attack, but “there were too many precautions,” so he chose the Reina nightclub to attack.

“I arrived in Turkey through Iran after receiving the orders to participate in the war in Syria last January. I settled in [the Central Anatolian province of] Konya. While I was there, I received the order from Raqqa. I received the orders to carry out an attack on New Year’s Eve in Taksim,” Masharipov said, adding that he sent the surveillance footage he took in Taksim to ISIL militants in Raqqa.

“I arrived in Taksim but there were intense security measures. It didn’t seem possible to carry out an attack. I again contacted the person who gave me the order. We decided that Taksim wasn’t suitable for an attack and he ordered me to look for a new target. I traveled along the coast with a taxi at around 10 p.m. Reina seemed right. There weren’t many security precautions. I passed on that information to the person who gave me the order and he told me to attack Reina. I then went to Zeytinburnu with the taxi, got the weapon from the house and attacked Reina,” he said. 

According to police investigations, Masharipov, who was determined to have received weapons training in al-Qaeda camps in Iraq before becoming an ISIL militant, arrived in Istanbul on Dec. 16, 2016, from Konya. He was initially placed in an ISIL house in Başakşehir. He moved to Zeytinburnu two days before the attack. 

Masharipov reportedly came to an Uighur restaurant in Zeytinburnu after attacking Reina and spent the night there. He left early on Jan. 1 and initially went to Başakşehir. From there, two people, one of whom is an Iraqi, took him on Jan. 6 to a house in Esenyurt, where he was caught. He settled in the house, which was rented to Ali Jameel Mohammed, an Iraqi citizen, six months ago for a total of 750 Turkish Liras a month.

Mohammed was also detained after being caught in the house alongside Masharipov and three women.
The first contact with the ISIL militant occurred in Istanbul’s Bakırköy a day after the Reina attack. Traffic police recognized Masharipov, who was sitting in the back seat, but the car managed to escape after opening fire on police. After the incident, police determined that Masharipov was taken to Esenyurt from Bahçeşehir. 
Masharipov panicked after three Uzbek citizens with whom he was in contact were caught in the southern province of Hatay. Raids on five addresses in Esenyurt were then carried out. 

“Don’t kill me,” Masharipov told the police in Turkish during the raid, as he was trying to hide under a bed. According to the police, he sent his 4-year-old son to another ISIL cell. 

One Iraqi man and three African women were also caught in the operation. Masharipov used the African women so as not to draw attention and sent them to do shopping. It was also alleged that the women planned to join ISIL.

Masharipov confessed to his crime in his initial testimony, while his fingerprints also matched those found at the crime scene. 

A total of 20 ISIL cells have been discovered in Esenyurt, Silivri and Başakşehir since Jan. 1 as part of efforts to apprehend Masharipov. 

The operation was directed by Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Çalışkan, who ordered police officers to apprehend Masharipov alive in order to determine his connections. A working group consisting of 2,000 people was formed by authorities and security footage totaling 7,200 hours was inspected to determine the militant’s whereabouts. Several suspected houses were kept under police surveillance around the clock as part of the manhunt.

Authorities allege that the house in Esenyurt was used by ISIL militants to transfer militants to Syria. Masharipov was also allegedly planning to leave Istanbul for Syria. 

Elsewhere, Uzbek authorities released a statement regarding Masharipov’s detention, saying he was being sought in the country on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. A security official told Anadolu Agency that Masharipov left Uzbekistan six years ago to move to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the attack’s relation to ISIL is “as clear as day,” while praising Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu and the police officers who carried out the operation. 

“This is a great achievement by our police. The ISIL terrorist organization’s connection to the attack is as clear as day,” Bozdağ told state-run Anadolu Agency on Jan. 18.

He also noted that significant intelligence regarding ISIL will be reached during ongoing investigations into the attack.