Trial of Istanbul nightclub attack suspects begins


ISTANBUL — A trial began Monday in Turkey against dozens of suspects, including the alleged shooter in the New Year's Eve attack that left 39 people dead in Istanbul.

Fifty-seven suspects, mostly foreigners and 51 of them behind bars, went on trial near a prison on the outskirts of Istanbul.

Albulkadir Masharipov of Uzbekistan — the lead suspect in the case — is charged with membership in a terror group, murder and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, among other charges. The prosecutor is seeking multiple aggravated life sentences. The suspect's wife has also been charged.

Masharipov faces 40 life sentences, one for each of the victims and the massacre itself.

Masharipov was captured alive in a massive police operation and analysts say his evidence in confessions have helped Turkish authorities break up the elaborate network of terror cells in the city.

After taking a taxi to the elite waterside Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus, Masharipov shot dead the security guard before marching inside and firing indiscriminately with his AK-47 at the terrified revellers and setting off grenades.

With survivors even jumping into the Bosphorus in panic, Masharipov, 34 at the time of the attack, slipped away from the scene as he merged into the crowds, triggering fears he could strike again.

However, after a 17-day manhunt that involved 2,000 police who watched 7,200 hours of video footage, the Turkish authorities detained Masharipov in the residential Istanbul neighborhood of Esenyurt.

Turkish authorities said Masharipov trained in Afghanistan and he confessed to carrying out the attack after receiving orders from the headquarters of Daesh in the Syrian city of Raqa.

According to the indictment, the order for the attack was given by a senior Russian Syria-based Daesh extremist named Islam Atabiev — codenamed Abu Jihad.

Of the 39 killed in the Reina attack, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco. According to the indictment, 79 people were wounded.

Masharipov, who used the Daesh codename Abu Mohammed Horasani, was just one of several nationals of the ex-Soviet state of Uzbekistan implicated in terror attacks this year.

An Uzbek man in October used a truck to mow people down on a New York street, ultimately killing eight according to terror charges. An Uzbek national was arrested after a truck attack in Stockholm in April that killed four people.

The majority of the other suspects on trial are also foreigners, including Uighur Chinese and other nationals of Central Asian states.

Turkey was in 2016 battered by repeated attacks by terrorists and Kurdish extremists. However, there has been no further largescale attack comparable to the Reina atrocity since.

Istanbul and Ankara remain under the tightest security and the authorities repeatedly claim that major plots have been foiled and hundreds of terror suspects detained.

Badly damaged in the attack, the Reina nightclub, once the haunt of Istanbul football stars and soap opera icons, was demolished in May on the grounds it had violated local construction legislation. — Agencies