Police in Turkey believe a man (below) suspected of killing 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub could be a member of a Muslim minority group in China, according to Turkish media.
The Week The Haber Turk newspaper, citing security sources, reports the suspect could be an unnamed Uighur Muslim who entered Turkey from Syria, travelling with his wife and two children to avoid attracting attention.
He also appeared to have combat experience and could have been trained in Syria, which shares a border with the country, Reuters said, quoting an unidentified security source.
The Dogan News Agency says police have detained 27 people with alleged links to the attacker, including three foreign national families. They add the gunman is believed to be around 25 years old.
Thirty-nine people died and 69 were wounded in the attacks at the exclusive Reina nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
The gunman took a taxi to the venue, where he fired around 180 bullets before taking another cab away from the scene – telling the driver he had no money and asking to borrow his phone, Hurriyet Daily News reports, according to USA Today.
The Chinese Uighurs, who are ethnically Turkic Muslims, have their traditional home in the autonomous region of Xinjiang, which was annexed after China seized control of the short-lived state of East Turkestan in 1949. Some Uighur separatist groups want to re-establish the state’s independence.
In 2015, protests and street scuffles erupted after reports claimed Chinese authorities were refusing to allow worship and fasting during Ramadan. Beijing denied the reports, but anti-Chinese sentiment over the troubles has simmered in Turkey, where many Turks see themselves as sharing religious and cultural ties with the Uighurs.