ISTANBUL, Jan 17, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - A 34-year-old Uzbek man suspected of mowing down 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year's Eve confessed on Tuesday to the massacre, Turkish authorities said.
In a dramatic assault in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Turkish police raided an Istanbul apartment and detained Abdulgadir Masharipov after a massive weeks-long manhunt.
"The terrorist confessed his crime," Istanbul governor Vasip Sahin told reporters at a news conference, saying the suspect's fingerprints matched those of the attacker.
"He was trained in Afghanistan and can speak four languages. He's a well-trained terrorist," added the governor.
Police also confiscated 197,000 US dollars (185,000 euros), two firearms and clips during the raid.
The arrest will come as a relief to Istanbul residents, already on edge after a string of attacks, who had feared for more than a fortnight that a trained killer was on the loose in the city.
Local media published a picture of the detained man with blood on his face and T-shirt, his neck gripped by a policeman. Television images showed him being roughly led away, his head bent low.
- 'Vile attack' -
The operation to capture the suspected jihadist involved some 2,000 police officers, the Istanbul governor said.
The suspect had been on the run for 17 days, after apparently slipping into the night following the attack on the glamorous Reina nightclub on the Bosphorus.
But he was eventually discovered in an apartment in the residential
Esenyurt district of Istanbul.
Initial reports suggested his four-year-old son was with him in the
apartment but the governor denied this.
However, one Iraqi man and three women from Egypt and Africa were also captured and detained in the raid.
The Islamic State (IS) group took responsibility for the bloodbath, the first time it has ever openly claimed a major attack in Turkey.
It had previously been blamed for several strikes in Turkey, including the triple suicide bombings at Istanbul airport in June.
"It is clear that the attack was carried out on behalf of Daesh," Sahin said, using an Arabic acronym for the IS group, adding that the other four suspects were likely linked to the jihadists.
Capturing the suspect alive will be seen as a major victory for the Turkish security forces and he may be able to shed light on the existence of other IS cells in the city.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter that "in the name of the nation" he thanked the police and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu for the capture.
And Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters: "What matters is the capture of the perpetrator of this vile attack and exposing the powers behind him. To us, it is an important development."
- 'Tracked for 3 days' -
There had been confusion over the attacker's identity in the wake of the massacre, with reports initially suggesting a Kyrgyz national and then a Uighur from China was responsible.
But authorities later identified him as a 34-year-old Uzbek who was part of a Central Asian IS cell using the code name Ebu Muhammed Horasani.
Images released by police during the manhunt were taken from a chilling silent video he purportedly took on Istanbul's Taksim Square with a selfie stick, before carrying out the carnage.
According to NTV television, the attacker was captured at 00:15 local time (2115 GMT). The police had spotted his location three days earlier, but preferred to track him to identify his contacts.
The investigation had also focused on the central Turkish city of Konya where the attacker was reported to have lived for several weeks after returning from Syria before moving to Istanbul.
At least 35 people had been detained in the investigation before
Masharipov's arrest, according to local media.
Of the 39 killed in the attack, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco who had been hoping to celebrate a special New Year.
The attack, just 75 minutes into 2017, rocked Turkey which had already been shaken by a series of attacks in 2016 blamed on jihadists and Kurdish militants that has left hundreds dead.
Western allies have accused Turkey of not doing enough to halt the rise of IS but Ankara denies the claim, noting that the group has been listed as a terror organisation in the country since 2013.
Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)