An injured woman is carried to an ambulance from a nightclub where a gun attack took place during a New Year party in Istanbul. Picture Courtesy:-(Murat Ergin/Ihlas News Agency) via REUTERS

At least 39 people have been killed, and about 69 wounded after a gunman reportedly dressed as Santa Claus randomly started firing at a nightclub in Istanbul’s Ortaköy district during New Year’s Eve celebrations. The incidentwhich took place in the early hours of Sunday, Istanbul Governor Vasip Sahin told reporters.

Vasip Sahin, Governor of Istanbul province called the mass shooting as a terrorist attack. This one started about 1:15 am (2230 GMT) at the popular nightclub Reina, which overlooks the watercourse of Bosphorus, separating Europe and Asia in cosmopolitan Ortakoy district.

The gunman is believed to have been dressed in a Santa costume, armed with a long-barrelled weapon, killed a police officer and a civilian outside the Reina club at about 1.45 am before entering and firing on people partying inside.

“A terrorist with a long-range weapon … brutally and savagely carried out this attack by firing bullets on innocent people who were there solely to celebrate the New Year and have fun,” Sahin told reporters.

Relatives of the victims gather near the area of the night club Reina in Istanbul.       Image Courtesy:- AFP

One club-goer, Sinem Uyanik, who was there with her husband, Lutfu Uyanik, told The Associated Press she had seen several bodies inside the nightclub to flee the attack, her husband was wounded, she added, but not seriously.

“We were having fun. All of a sudden people started to run. My husband said don’t be afraid, and he jumped on me. People ran over me. My husband was hit in three places.”

According to broadcaster CNN Turk, as many as 600 people were thought to have been inside the club when the attack happened, Local reports said some people jumped into the waters of the Bosphorus strait to escape from the massacre and were being rescued by police, which started shortly before 1.30am local time (11.30pm GMT).

An injured woman is carried to an ambulance from a nightclub where a gun attack took place during a New Year party in Istanbul, Turkey, January 1, 2017.                               Picture Courtesy:-(Murat Ergin/Ihlas News Agency) via REUTERS

At least 16 of the dead were foreign nationals, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said, without providing information on their nationalities. Turkish national authorities identified the five victims and authorities were still trying to identify 18 of the victims. At least 69 people were being treated in hospitals across the city, in a “very serious condition” included several foreigners. The health minister, Recep Akdağ said.

Dozens of ambulances and police vehicles were dispatched to the Reina nightclub in Ortakoy, police in riot gear and machine guns backed up by armoured vehicles blocked the area around the club. Security measure has been increased across the city following the Ortakoy club attack. State-run news agency Anadolu reported that the security system had already been heightened in major Turkish cities during what has been a year marked by terrorist attacks.

Ambulances and police vehicles surround Reina nightclub in the Besiktas area of Istanbul after a gun attack killed at least 39 people during the country’s New Year’s celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey, January 1, 2017. Picture Courtesy:- (AP)

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been quoted by state-run news agency Anadolu as expressing his “deep sadness” over the attack. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the man was still on the run, adding “Our security forces have started the necessary operations. God willing he will be caught in a short period of time.”

Riot police stand guard after the attack.                                                                                  Picture Credit :- AFP

US President Barack Obama expressed condolences for the gun attack and directed his team to offer US help to Turkish authorities, the White House said.

The EU representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini and Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also expressed their condolences. “2017 starts with an attack in Istanbul,” Federica Mogherini twitted shortly after the attack.

Istanbul, Turkey’s most populous city, has seen several attacks this year, on December 10, 44 people were killed and more than 150 people were wounded in a double bombing in Istanbul, outside a soccer stadium, claimed by Kurdish militants.

In June, around 45 people were killed and hundreds wounded as three suspected Islamic State militants carried out a gun and bomb attack on Istanbul’s main Ataturk airport.