Fri, Jan 06, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Hiding, feigning death: survivors recall massacre

AP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

A file photo obtained on Tuesday shows a man — believed to be the gunman who killed dozens at an Istanbul nightclub — filming himself as he wanders near Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Photo: DHA-Depo via AP

The survivors huddled atop a giant industrial freezer in terrified silence, as the Islamic State gunman entered the nightclub kitchen. Wiping his Kalashnikov free of fingerprints, he did not see them as he changed clothes and put on a Santa hat. Then smearing himself with the blood of New Year’s revelers killed in the carnage minutes earlier, he left the kitchen and blended into the crowd of survivors being evacuated.

Inside one of Istanbul’s most glamorous nightclubs, the attacker had just fired 180 bullets in seven minutes, killing 39 people.

A traffic jam had nearly thwarted his arrival an hour earlier and he jumped out to walk the last few hundred meters to the Reina club. His Kalashnikov concealed beneath his coat, he pulled the weapon out only when he was within easy range of the club’s unarmed guards.

Ali Unal, the Reina co-owner, was having a smoke outside and talking on his cellphone. It was 1:20am and Unal thought the gunfire was just New Year’s fireworks. Then bullets bounced off a heater in the entryway.

After killing a guard and a bystander, the attacker tossed a stun grenade and entered the club unopposed.

An hour of pure terror followed, according to the accounts of survivors interviewed by The Associated Press, as well as a review of surveillance video and reports in government-linked media.

Sprawling along the narrow strait that links Europe and Asia, the three-story Reina had five restaurants and curtained terraces cascading down to the edge of the Bosporus Sea. When the assailant entered, it was packed with about 600 people.

Starting from the upper terraces, he opened fire as he crossed blue-lighted dance floors pulsating with rave music.

Some revelers fled to the seaside terraces and grabbed the long gray curtains to drop into the water below; others desperately sought hiding places. Many simply dropped to the ground as bodies fell over them, praying they would not be seen.

“I caught a curtain,” said Karim Noureddine, a 27-year-old Lebanese who was at the club with his girlfriend.

“I rappeled down and she followed me and I was able to escape,” he said, speaking at the Beirut funeral of his friend, Elias Wardini, who was among those killed in the bloodbath. “I did not know what was going on inside, because I was out in the first 50 seconds and running toward the sea.”

For Sabri Ozturk, one of the club’s restaurant managers, time stretched agonizingly.

“The gunfire wouldn’t cease,” said Ozturk, whose wife and 19-year-old son had come to keep him company during the holiday shift. “They say seven minutes, but it felt like seven hours.”

Ozturk dropped to the floor and shouted to his family to do the same.

“But it wasn’t just them. It was everyone around them. Our feet and heads were on top of each other. My wife was beneath my arm. My hand was on my son’s head because he is protesting. I’m closing his mouth, telling him to be silent,” Ozturk said.

They stayed that way for about an hour, he said.

Yunus Turk, a 25-year-old Frenchman at the Reina with his cousin, was hiding on the terrace as the gunman moved through the club. He grabbed a table and held it in front of him as a shield, hearing bullets ping off the metal.

“I was just trying to calm the people around me, so the shooters wouldn’t notice us. Because I thought at the time that there had to more than one. I would never have imagined that one person could do so much,” 23-year-old Yussuf Kodat told France Television.

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