Photo Credit: screenshot / Turkish NTV
Scene outside the Reina Club in Ortakoy district of Istanbul on New Year's Eve 2016

The Ortaköy district in Istanbul and surrounds are on lockdown as Turkish police carry out a manhunt to track down at least one, and possibly two killers who may still be dressed as Santa Claus.

Despite 17,000 Turkish police officers having been deployed across Istanbul this weekend to guard against terrorism during New Year’s celebrations, one of the most famous nightclubs in the heart of the city was attacked at about 01:30 am Sunday, on the secular New Year’s Eve.

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At least 35 people were killed, including a police officer, and some 40 others wounded as two attackers armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles opened fire in the famous Reina Club nightclub in the Ortaköy district.

Some 800 people were reported to be inside the club in ‘Istanbul by the Bosphorus’ at the time of the attack. The Reina is an international venue frequented by high-society celebrities, artists and football stars, according to Turkish media.

The two terrorists were said to be speaking Arabic, according to reports in European media.

Some of the more than 500 celebrants in the club jumped in the water to escape the gunfire and were being rescued by police, according to eyewitnesses quoted by the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News. Istanbul governor Vasip Şahin quickly arrived to the scene.

“The U.S. intelligence warned over such an attack about one week or 10 days ago and measures have been taken, including [at] the sea front,” a witness said, but added that although the warning was taken seriously, security measures had still be unable to prevent the attack.

Less than two weeks ago, Russian envoy to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was assassinated by an off-duty Turkish police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas, while speaking at the opening of an art exhibition at a gallery in Ankara. The killer proclaimed he acted in revenge for Russian actions in Syria.

The Turkish Daily Sabah news outlet quoted Governor Sahin as saying early Sunday that one of the assailants was dressed in a Santa Claus outfit when he opened fire in the nightclub, after first shooting police outside.

Turkish NTV television news broadcasts showed between 50 to 60 ambulances and police vehicles converging on the scene.

At least one of the attackers was reported to still be inside the club, and police special forces were said to be preparing to enter the building.

Police are also on high alert in other major Turkish cities that were targeted by terror attacks in 2016, including the capital city of Ankara.

All told, more than 180 people in Turkey have died this year as a result of radical Islamist terror attacks by the Islamic State (Da’esh or ISIS) terrorist organization, and PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party terrorist group.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.