Photo taken on Jan. 1, 2017 shows the Reina night club in Istanbul, Turkey. The death toll rose to 39 in a shooting attack on the Reina night club in central Istanbul early Sunday morning, the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told the press. (Xinhua/Cenk Baklan)
BEIJING, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- The international community has condemned an attack on a nightclub in Turkey's Istanbul in the first hours of the new year that killed at least 39 people, while the gunman responsible for the shooting spree is still at large.
As more than 600 revelers were celebrating the arrival of the year 2017 at Reina nightclub in central Istanbul, a gunman stormed and started shooting at random after firing at a police officer and a civilian at the entrance at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday (2215 GMT Saturday).
Twenty-eight foreigners from nine countries are among the 39 people killed in the attack, Turkish media said.
The attack also left 69 others injured, with four in critical condition.
The United Nations (UN) Security Council said in a statement released Sunday that its members "condemned in the strongest terms the heinous and barbaric terrorist attack" on the Istanbul nightclub.
"They expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Turkey and wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured," said the statement.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, in a statement to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressed his condolences on Sunday.
"In my personal name and that of the whole European Commission, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences to you and my solidarity with the victims and their loved ones," he said.
"We strongly condemn all acts of terrorism and confirm our continued commitment to working with the authorities of Turkey in preventing and combating these threats effectively," EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, said in a joint statement.
The Chinese government condemned the terrorist attack Sunday.
"China opposes all forms of terrorism and is willing to work with the Turkey and the international community to maintain regional and world peace and security," Chinese Foreign Minister spokesperson Hua Chunying said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has sent a message of condolences to his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, according to Hua.
"However, terrorists don't share moral values. Our common duty is to combat terrorists' aggression," Putin said.
The White House condemned what it called a "horrific terrorist attack" and offered U.S. help to Turkey.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced "an inhumane, sneaky attack on people who wanted to celebrate."
GUNMAN AT LARGE
The gunman was on the run after slipping out of the nightclub in chaos, leading to a manhunt by police.
The assailant armed with a "long-range weapon" was seen changing his ammunition clip several times in the assault and heard speaking Arabic "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest).
NTV broadcaster said the gunman fired between 120 and 180 rounds in the seven-minute attack, during which some revellers even jumped into the freezing waters of the Bosporus to escape.
"Unfortunately, (he) rained bullets in a very cruel and merciless way on innocent people who were there to celebrate the new year and have fun," Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin told reporters.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack or comments from the Turkish authorities on the possible identity or motives of the gunman.
Turkey has been hit by around 30 bombing attacks over the past one and a half years, in which more than 400 people lost their lives, prompting calls for steps to revamp the intelligence units and reduce polarization in society to better counter the scourge of terrorism.
PKK leader Murat Karayilan was quoted by the Firat news agency as saying that no Kurdish force was involved in the attack.
Only days ago, an online message from a pro-IS group called for attacks by "lone wolves" on "celebrations, gatherings and clubs."
Abdullah Agar, a security analyst, saw both the target and the perpetrator as being selected "very attentively."
Reina, quite close to the Bosporus Strait, is popular with celebrities, artists, football stars and tourists. As to the shooter, Agar described him as a "very very cold-blooded" terrorist more adept at close attacks than those trained in the military.
"The ammunition he used is also very qualified. He definitely is not someone ordinary," Agar said, noting "he used steel core bullets which can be rarely found and used. One bullet can killed more than one person at once. It is not easily obtained."
He cited the IS group as a possible mastermind behind the mass shootings, which targeted civilians in past attacks.
In his view, the deadly attack was carried out to derange the balance in Turkey, spoil the country's ongoing struggle against terror organizations outside of its territory, disturb the society's fragility even further, or have Turkey pay a price for its increasing cooperation with Russia.
"The target and the timing which coincided with New Year celebrations is very important. The attack's symbolic meaning is very important," the analyst said.
A nationwide cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia has been holding in Syria despite some clashes, since it was activated at midnight Friday, a monitor group reported on Saturday.
Turkey, for its part, has launched a military offensive in northern Syria since August, with a view to clearing the IS militants from the border area and preventing the Syrian Kurds from claiming more land for an autonomous region or an independent state.
In the wake of the nightclub attack, the Turkish armed forces voiced determination to press ahead with the counterterrorism efforts, which Agar described as something "quite important."