Report: Islamic State Jihadi Detained in Iran Before Istanbul Nightclub Attack

Reina club attacker after being caught by Turkish police in Istanbul, late Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. Turkish media reports say police have caught the gunman who killed 39 people at an attack on a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year's celebrations, detained during a police operation. (Depo Photos via AP)
Depo Photos via AP

Multiple Turkish media outlets are reporting that Abdulkadir Masharipov, the Uzbek terrorist responsible for the killing of 39 people at Istanbul’s Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve, was detained in Iran and released before making his way into Turkey on Islamic State orders.

The Turkish outlet Hurriyet, citing the outlet Habertürk, reported earlier this week that Masharipov was detained in Iran for fifteen days and released, without specifying that Masharipov had apparently done to deserve to serve time in jail. The Saudi newspaper al-Arabiya has published a similar report citing a different Turkish news outlet, the newspaper Milliyet, which claimed Tuesday that Masharipov had been “arrested” in Iran and the details regarding his release remain unclear.

The English-language report in Wednesday’s Hurriyet omits the arrest details, instead quoting the testimony that Masharipov reportedly gave Turkish law enforcement, which police released to the media on Wednesday. Masharipov confesses to arriving in Turkey from Iran.

“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,” Masharipov is quoted as saying, referring to the capital of the Islamic State “caliphate.” He told police that he had “received the order” to attack the populated Taksim Square on New Year’s Eve, but “there were intense security measures. It didn’t seem possible to carry out an attack.”

Masharipov claimed he received the alternate order to attack the Reina nightclub after he scoped the location out and found that “there weren’t many security precautions.”

The owner of Reina, Memet Kocarslan, told media following the attack that the lack of security was partly attributable to Turkey’s gun laws, which do not allow armed security inside nightclubs. “We must change this law. We are dealing with terrorism. We need to do something,” Kocarslan told CNN.

Australia’s The Times adds the detail that it appears Masharipov arrived from Iran illegally “via a smuggling route that has also brought tens of thousands of Pakistani, Afghan and Iranian mig­rants into the country on their way to Europe.”

Authorities have repeatedly described Masharipov as a “well-trained terrorist,” though the issue of where he developed his skills continues to be a matter of dispute among various media outlets. Anadolu Agency, the Turkish state news outlet, cited authorities as saying that the terrorist had trained in Afghanistan. The Times claimed Masharipov had “received weapons training in al-Qaeda camps in Iraq.” The Doğan News Agency, which owns Hurriyet, reported that Masharipov had trained in Pakistan, a hotbed of radical Islamic terror. Reports match in claiming Masharipov, an Uzbek national, speaks four languages.

Masharipov initially escaped the Reina nightclub and spent two weeks a fugitive with his four-year-old son, now in government custody. He was arrested in a raid on Tuesday morning at an Istanbul apartment he shared with at least one man and three women, all African nationals, who had come to Turkey as Islamic State recruits. Police told reporters they found the terrorist after screening 100,000 hours of surveillance camera footage and found in his apartment weapons that appeared to indicate he would have kept conducting attacks if not arrested.

Authorities have not elaborated on initial claims that a “foreign intelligence agency” had also been involved in the attack.

Masharipov killed 39 people and wounded dozens of others on December 31 at Reina; most were Middle Eastern tourists who had come to metropolitan Istanbul to celebrate the new year holiday. The Islamic State — along with many fundamentalist Muslim leaders, including members of Turkey’s religious authority, the Diyanet — considers New Year’s Eve a “pagan” holiday, whose celebration on the part of Muslims is punishable by death.