ISTANBUL (Reuters) - An Uzbek gunman who killed 39 people in Istanbul’s Reina nightclub on New Year’s Day told police he had changed his target at the last minute to avoid heavy security and acted on direct orders from Islamic State in Syria, a newspaper said on Wednesday.
The gunman, named on Tuesday as Abdulgadir Masharipov, had initially been told to attack the area around the central Taksim square and said his instructions came from Raqqa, Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria, the newspaper Hurriyet cited him as saying in police testimony.
“I came to Taksim on New Year’s Eve but the security measures were intense. It wasn’t possible to carry out the attack,” he was quoted as saying.
“I was given instructions to search for a new target in the area. I toured the (Bosphorus) shore at around 10 p.m. in a cab,” he said.
“Reina looked suitable for the attack. There didn’t seem to be many security measures.”
Hurriyet did not say how it had obtained the testimony and Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report.
Masharipov was caught on Monday in Esenyurt, a suburb of Istanbul, along with an Iraqi man and three women from Africa, one of them from Egypt.
On Wednesday Turkish police raided six locations in the western province of Bursa in connection with the nightclub attack and detained 27 suspected Islamic State members, the state Anadolu news agency reported.
The detainees included 15 women and Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik nationals. Police also seized fake IDs and passports in the raids, Anadolu said.
Neighbors of Masharipov said he had been quiet and unobtrusive.
“We rarely heard that door being opened or shut. They never put their trash out. There were hardly ever any shoes outside their door,” said a neighbor living on the same floor who gave her name as Hulya.
A security guard at the entrance of the gated apartment complex where Masharipov was captured said it had been under police surveillance since last week. “They said they were looking for someone. A police vehicle waited across the entrance all night long,” he said.
The guard said he never saw Masharipov.
“I heard he always used the back door and had only been here for the past three or four days,” he said.
Masharipov had shot his way into the exclusive nightclub and opened fire on New Year’s revelers with an automatic rifle, throwing stun grenades to allow himself to reload, and shooting the wounded on the ground.
Islamic State claimed responsibility the next day, saying the attack was revenge for Turkish military involvement in Syria. Turkish troops entered Syria last August to push Islamic State away from the border and halt Kurdish militia advances.
Like many cities around the world on New Year’s Eve, Istanbul had taken additional security measures, deploying 25,000 police officers to try to thwart attacks after a year of bombings by Islamic State and Kurdish militants.
Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin said on Tuesday that Masharipov had admitted his guilt and that his fingerprints matched those at the scene.
Sahin described him as well-educated and able to speak four languages, and said he had received training in Afghanistan.
Hulya said the occupants of the apartment did not seem unusual but they always remained reclusive.
“We were never suspicious. My husband said he used to speak to the Iraqi man. They chatted about the rent,” she said. “How could we possibly have known?”
Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones