Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş blamed “an intelligence organization” for helping organize the New Year’s Eve terrorist massacre that killed 39 people in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub. The Islamic State has taken credit for the attack.
“It appears the Reina attack was not just a terrorist organization’s act, but there was also an intelligence organization involved. It was an extremely planned and organized act,” Kurtulmuş said on Monday, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. The Deputy PM did not elaborate on the claim or specify what kind of intelligence organization was involved, domestic or foreign. Despite the Islamic State’s official claim that the terrorist responsible for the Reina massacre was one of its own, the terrorist organization Kurtulmuş mentioned in the interview was, instead, the group led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Yeni Safak, a newspaper friendly to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, quotes Kurtulmuş as using the opportunity to demand the United States extradite Gulen. “It would be for not only Turkey’s but also US’ benefit to extradite or at least try Gülen and don’t let the him lead its terrorist organization,” the Deputy PM argued, “because such a move would improve bilateral relations of US and Turkey.”
Turkey claims that Gulen’s network of charter schools, which Ankara calls the Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), was responsible for the failed coup attempt against Erdogan in July 2016. Gulen has denied the claims.
It remains unclear whether Ankara suspects Gulenists were behind the Reina nightclub attack. The government has been quick to accuse FETO of involvement in terrorist acts in the past – for example, the assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov in December.
This is not the first time Kurtulmuş makes the claim that a government agency may have potentially been involved in the attack. Earlier this month, Kurtulmuş told Hurriyet the attack “seems like a secret service thing,” saying he suspected, though he could not prove, that “foreign intelligence services” were involved. Today’s remarks appear to indicate the government has compiled evidence that lends more weight to that theory.
After initially claiming the suspect, who is still at large, was a Kyrgyz citizen, Turkish authorities accused Uzbek citizen Abdulgadir Masharipov of having orchestrated the attack and released a picture. Masharipov reportedly uses the Islamic State nom de guerre “Ebu Muhammed Horasani.” Masharipov’s wife told authorities she had no idea her husband had ties to the Islamic State. Authorities have described Masharipov as a “professional” killer who appeared to boast skills that only a “specially-trained” jihadi would in videos of the attack.
Many experts have speculated that Masharipov also enjoyed the support of a highly developed terrorist cell within Turkey. “It’s clear that this person was not just a lone wolf,” former Turkish intelligence head Cevdet Öneş said last week. “We can say the attack was a result of cooperation and people helping each other.”
Police arrested two men, identified as Omar Asim and Abuliezi Abuduhamiti, during the weekend, accused of being part of the advanced terrorist cell in question. Turkish authorities have arrested another 20 suspects, one identified as the head of the Islamic State’s small Istanbul wing, according to Hurriyet. The two men most recently arrested are believed to be ethnic Uighurs, members of the predominantly Muslim Chinese ethnic minority largely residing in western Xinjiang province. Police have speculated that Masharipov may also be Uighur. China has estimated that up to 200 of its Uighur citizens have joined the Islamic State.
Masharipov is suspected of killing 39 people and injuring nearly 70 others, mostly Middle Eastern tourists attending the club’s New Year’s celebration. The Islamic State considers the celebration of the end of the Western calendar year a pagan holiday, which Muslims should abstain from observing or face torture and death for violating Sharia law.