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Istanbul on alert as hunt for gunman reaches 4th day

Istanbul on alert as hunt for gunman reaches 4th day

January 5th, 2017 by Associated Press in International News

A Turkish special security force member patrols near the scene of the Reina night club following the New Year's day attack, in Istanbul, Wednesday.

Photo by Associated Press /News Tribune.

ISTANBUL (AP) — Police increased security around Istanbul on Wednesday and detained some 20 people with suspected links to the deadly New Year's Eve night club attack as the hunt for the gunman stretched into a fourth day.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the gunman — who killed 39 people during New Year's celebrations at the Reina club before reportedly escaping in a taxi — had been identified, but did not name him.

Police set up checkpoints across Istanbul as security levels remained high. They stopped cars and taxis, with passengers and drivers holding up their identifications while officers inspected the vehicles.

The city has been on edge since the attack on the upscale club popular with local celebrities, and on Wednesday residents beat up a man said to resemble the wanted gunman before handing him over to police, the Dogan news agency reported.

Some 20 people, including 11 women, were taken into custody in police raids in the Aegean port city of Izmir, the state-run Anadolu agency said.

The suspects, from the largely Muslim Russian republic of Dagestan, as well as members of China's Muslim Uighur minority and from Syria, were believed to have lived with the gunman in an alleged IS cell house in the central Turkish city of Konya, the agency reported. Some 20 children who were with the detainees were also taken to a police station.

At least 16 people were previously detained in connection with the massacre.

IS has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in reprisal for Turkish military operations against IS in northern Syria. Of those killed, 27 were foreigners — many from the Middle East.

In his first public address to the nation since the killings, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack aimed to set Turks against each other and deepen fault lines, but warned the country would not fall "for this game."

His comments followed a campaign before the attack by some ruling party supporters and pro-Islamic groups who warned against New Year's celebrations they depicted as Western or Christian traditions, as well as some social media postings that seemed to support the attack on the New Year's revelers.

The campaign and social media postings were condemned by more secular-minded Turks who said their lifestyles were being threatened.

The government has said authorities were taking measures against social media accounts that allegedly "support terrorism and foster divisiveness in society."

"I repeat once again: no one's lifestyle is under systematic threat in Turkey," Erdogan said in his address Wednesday. "We would never allow such a thing. We didn't allow it in 14 years of governance. If anyone alleges differently they need to put forward concrete examples."

Erdogan also dismissed accusations that Turkey has, in the past, given support to IS.

"To present the country — which is leading the greatest struggle against Daesh — as one that is supporting terrorism is what the terror organization wants," he said, using the Arabic alternate acronym for IS. "To say Turkey has surrendered to terrorism is to take sides with the terrorists and terror organizations."