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Bloody Start to the New Year: Gunman Kills 39 at Istanbul Nightclub

Hundreds of newly trained Al-Shabaab fighters perform military exercises south of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 2011. (AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh)

A gunman reportedly dressed in a Santa Claus costume shot up a popular upscale nightclub in Istanbul just an hour and a half after revelers rang in the new year.

According to Turkish media, at least 39 people, including at least one police officer at the gate, were killed at Reina, a restaurant and nightspot along the Bosphorus. At least 15 of dead are reportedly foreigners.

Reina owner Mehmet Koçarslan told a Hurriyet reporter that the gunman, who escaped the scene, armed with a Kalashnikov sprayed the crowd celebrating the new year. “The U.S. intelligence warned over such an attack about one week or 10 days ago and measures have been taken, including the sea front. And look what has happened then,” Koçarslan said.

Hurriyet reported that some clubgoers jumped into the frigid Bosphorus to escape the gunfire. Dozens of people were wounded in the attack; as many as 600 people were partying in the club at the time.

The Turkish government has ordered a media blackout on the attack in the country.

Santa is popular in the country, though some imams have railed against Turks celebrating the jolly guy; Saint Nicholas was born in what is now Demre, Turkey. Plainclothes police officers have even dressed as Santa on New Year’s Eve to blend into crowds while providing extra security.

There was not an immediate claim of responsibility. The Islamic State, however, issued a bulletin earlier in the day warning people not to celebrate the new year.

“To celebrate New Year’s Eve with the kuffar is to embrace their idolatry and paganism and to shun the rulings of our Lord,” the statement said. “…We also do not celebrate the start of a new year. Rather, we consider sacred the month of sacrifice and the Eids, which are also times to consider our Muslim brothers and ourselves. If a Muslim finds himself amid such a celebration, the kuffar commit all kinds of sin – imbibing of alcohol, fornication, and debauchery that must be avoided.”

This year, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government had told mosques around the country to declare New Year’s Eve celebrations to be un-Islamic.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara sent out a message to Americans in Turkey after the shooting as a reminder “that extremist groups are continuing aggressive efforts to conduct attacks in areas where U.S. citizens and expatriates reside or frequent.”

“U.S. citizens are reminded to be aware of their immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places when possible, especially in locations where Westerners, tourists, and expatriates are known to frequent, including but not limited to restaurants, commercial centers, places of worship, and transportation hubs,” the message said.

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the United States “condemns in the strongest terms the horrific terrorist attack” at Reina.

“That such an atrocity could be perpetrated upon innocent revelers, many of whom were celebrating New Year’s Eve, underscores the savagery of the attackers,” Price said. “We offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones of those killed, and a speedy recovery to the wounded. We reaffirm the support of the United States for Turkey, our NATO ally, in our shared determination to confront and defeat all forms of terrorism.”