Security measures in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district, including in the central Taksim Square area, have been doubled up in preparation for New Year’s Eve on the first anniversary of the bloody attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub.
“Measures for New Year will be at the highest level,” Beyoğlu district police chief İsmail Kılıç said on Dec. 20 in a meeting in Istanbul, quoted by state-run Anadolu Agency.
Celebratory gatherings will not be permitted in Taksim Square this year, while precautions will be taken at the entrances of Cihangir, Karaköy, Tarlabaşı and Talimhane, all popular hang-out destinations in the Beyoğlu district.
“Celebrations will not take place so people will be able to enter the new year peacefully,” Kılıç added.
In order to help monitor the Taksim area, older traffic surveillance cameras (MOBESE) have been maintained and fixed where necessary, while new cameras have also been installed on poles in the area.
Security measures have been tightened this year after at least 39 people, including a police officer, were killed and 79 people were injured after 34-year-old Uzbek citizen Abdulkadir Masharipov opened fire on revelers at the Reina nightclub in the Ortaköy neighborhood in the early hours of Jan. 1, 2017.
Of the 39 killed, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco, who had gone to the club to celebrate New Year.
“The Reina attacker initially came to film Taksim last year. He then changed locations after seeing the security measures in Taksim. That is why we will double up on security this year,” Kılıç said.
Images released by police during the manhunt for the attacker were taken from a chilling silent video that Masharipov purportedly took on Taksim Square with a selfie stick, before going to the elite waterside nightclub to carry out the attack.
After spending 15 days on the run, Masharipov, along with four other people, including a man of Kyrgyz origin and three women, was captured in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul late on Jan. 16.
After his capture in a police raid, Masharipov confessed to the shooting and said he was ordered to scout for a new target by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) leaders as Taksim was not suitable for an attack.
The suspect said he later took a taxi in the early evening to the shore of the Bosphorus, where he spotted the Reina nightclub.
“It didn’t look like security measures were high,” he said.
ISIL took responsibility for the bloodbath, which took place just 75 minutes into 2017, the first time the jihadi group has openly claimed a major attack in Turkey.
The self-confessed attacker faces 40 life sentences, one for each of the victims and the massacre itself. An Istanbul court had on Dec. 16 ordered the release of seven suspects in the hearing into the Reina attack.
Entering 2017, some 5,000 police officers were put on duty on Istanbul’s touristic İstiklal Avenue and Taksim Square in Beyoğlu. Some officers had disguised themselves by dressing up as Santa Claus, shoe shiners and street vendors among the crowds of people gathered on the streets to celebrate.
Number of ‘night guards’ patrolling Beyoğlu to increase
This year, Kılıç said the number of “night guards” patrolling the streets of Beyoğlu will be raised to 72 from 32.
“We have seen a significant decrease in residence, vehicle and workplace burglary incidents in Beyoğlu since 32 night guards first went on duty [this year],” the police chief aded.
The “night guards,” who patrol major city centers in Turkey, are accompanied by one police officer.