ISIS attacked again in Turkey, this time on New Year’s Eve in the Reina Night Club, one of the most well-known and crowded entertainment venues in Turkey where foreigners were known to gather, killing thirty-nine and wounding another sixty-nine. Initially, ISIS did not claim the attack, however, several ISIS-related Telegram accounts in Turkish and Arabic soon afterwards began claiming responsibility and cheering for the attack. Then, on, January 2, 2017, the Islamic State claimed responsibility via its Amaq news agency claiming that the killing spree was carried out by “a Caliphate soldier” and later in the evening released a video of him walking around the central Taksim square in Istanbul, perhaps an indicator that he is already securely out of the country.
According to Hurriyet Turkish news, the terrorist responsible for this attack, similar to the cell who carried out the triple suicide attacks on the Ataturk Istanbul Airport in June 2016 appears to be Central Asian, either Kyrgyz or Uzbek. He also appears as a professional terrorist with weapons and military training, as he calmly changed the magazine of his automatic rifle three times, something requiring cool nerves and training and killed without any hesitation first, the police officer at the entrance to the club to ensure he would not get any resistance as he entered and then his many victims as he carried out his attack. He also spent only seven minutes gunning down his victims, shooting them once again as they lay on the floor, to ensure the most kills.
As a Central Asian, he would likely be a Russian speaker and would either be a member, or have close ties, to the Caucasus Emirates (sub-group) of the Islamic State who include battle hardened Chechens, Dagestanis and others who have long experience fighting against the Russians with some also having fought in the Afghan jihad. In our research interviewing ISIS defectors, Chechens, Kazakhs and Turkmens were often referred to as the Special Forces of ISIS and described as highly experienced, military trained, taking the lead in battles and doing the most killing while the others followed behind. Omar Sheshani, the recently killed Minister of Defense of ISIS fought with this group as well, although he was not Chechen, but a convert from Georgia.
There are now three attacks in Istanbul involving Central Asians or the Caucasus Emirates of the Islamic State versus local Turks. The first is a black widow suicide bombing in the Sultan Ahmet region of Istanbul in January 6, 2015 in which Dagestani-born Diana Ramazova, the pregnant widow of a Norwegian Chechen ISIS cadre exploded herself outside a police station in Istanbul. The second are the triple suicide attacks on June 28, 2016 at Istanbul Atatürk Airport. And the final one is the Reina nightclub shooting. Apart from those three attacks, all other ISIS attacks in Turkey were carried out mainly by locals. Also, none of the attacks but the Reina and Diyarbakir attack against Turkish Kurds were claimed by ISIS.