Turkish authorities "close to identifying Istanbul gunman" responsible for nightclub attack

The first funerals for victims have taken place after 39 were killed in the New Year's attack

Turkish authorities "close to identifying Istanbul gunman" responsible for nightclub attack

Turkish police officers stand guard outside a nightclub, which was attacked by a gunman overnight, in Istanbul. Picture by Emrah Gurel AP/Press Association Images

Updated 17:40

Turkish officials say they are close to identifying the gunman who killed 39 people in a New Year attack on an Istanbul nightclub.

Deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmus said authorities have the fingerprints and a basic description of the assailant who fled the scene after the massacre.

It comes as eight suspects were held in the country over the atrocity at the Reina club in the early hours of New Year's morning which has since been claimed by Islamic State.

Earlier, Turkish media reported that the gunman, who shot dead 39 people and injured 69 others, is not one of those in custody.

Police are said to be investigating whether it was the same terror cell that carried out the deadly suicide bomb and gun attack at Istanbul's Ataturk airport last June.

Ankara authorities have said nearly 150 people have been detained in the past week over suspected links to IS.

25 of the dead were reportedly foreign citizens, including an 18-year-old Israeli woman, three Indians, three Lebanese, a woman with dual French-Tunisian citizenship and her Tunisian husband, three Jordanians, a Belgian national, a Kuwaiti citizen and a Canadian.

The first funerals for victims have taken place in Turkey.

CCTV footage has emerged of the moment the killer opened fire outside the club before storming the building that was packed with up to 600 revellers celebrating the New Year.

The gunman is believed to have caught a taxi from a southern district of the city but because of busy traffic, got out and walked the last four minutes to the entrance of the nightspot.

According to Turkish media, he pulled an assault rifle from a suitcase at the side of the road and opened fire on those at the front of the venue, killing policeman Burak Yildiz and travel agent Ayhan Arik.

He is then reported to have thrown two hand grenades into the building before entering the upmarket club.

He is said to have fired at least 180 bullets into terrified party-goers.

Search continues

The attacker is believed to have changed his clothes to escape the scene.

"The search for the terrorist continues... I hope (the assailant) will be captured quickly, God willing," said interior minister Suleyman Soylu.

He added: "This was a massacre, a truly inhuman savagery."

Witnesses described diving under tables as the assailant opened fire, while one reveller told how she had to lift dead bodies off her to escape the building after the attack.

Some party-goers jumped into the nearby Bosphorus to escape the slaughter in the Ortakoy district.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the attack was designed to destabilise the country.

The attack happened despite heightened security in major Turkish cities over New Year.

In Istanbul, 17,000 police officers were on duty, some disguised as Santa Claus and others as street vendors, according to state-run media.

Both Ankara and Istanbul were targeted by a series of attacks in 2016 carried out by the Islamic State group or Kurdish rebels and leaving 180 people dead.

The Department of Foreign Affairs here is advising Irish people in Turkey to "exercise extreme caution at all times, avoid crowded areas and those frequented by foreigners, and continue to follow local security advice and monitor local media."

Any Irish citizen in Turkey who needs assistance can call 00353 1 408 2000 or 0090 312 459 1000.