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Kyrgyzstan Says Passport Holder No Longer Suspect In Istanbul Nightclub Attack


A man places flowers at the entrance of the Reina nightclub in Istanbul on January 3.

Kyrgyz officials say the man whose name and passport have been circulated in Turkish and Italian media, as well as widely on social media, as the possible perpetrator of the New Year's Day massacre at an Istanbul nightclub is not a suspect in the case.

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service told RFE/RL on January 3 that Iakhe Mashrapov is now in Kyrgyzstan and had been questioned by both the Kyrgyz and Turkish authorities.

The spokesman, Rakhat Suleymanov, said that Mashrapov, a Kyrgyz businessman who lives in the town of Kara-Suu in Kyrgyzstan's southern Osh Province, flew to Bishkek from Istanbul on January 3 using his passport, which is genuine.

Suleymanov said Mashrapov's flight from Istanbul was delayed one hour as Turkish police questioned him before clearing him to depart.

Mashrapov told Kyrgyz Internet news agency Turmush later on January 3 that he had no idea how a picture of his passport was placed on social media.

Turkish authorities are still searching for the gunman who burst into Istanbul's waterfront Reina nightclub with an automatic weapon and began shooting people celebrating New Year's early on January 1, killing at least 39 people and wounded 69 others.

This handout picture released by the Turkish police and taken from Dogan News Agency on January 2 shows the main suspect in the Reina nightclub attack.
This handout picture released by the Turkish police and taken from Dogan News Agency on January 2 shows the main suspect in the Reina nightclub attack.

Turkish state news agency Anadolu said on January 3 that 14 people had so far been detained in connection with the investigation.

The dead include the nationals of more than a dozen countries. Funerals were being held around the Middle East on January 3 for victims from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. Victims also included citizens of Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, and Russia.

The militant group Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for the massacre, calling the gunman a "hero soldier of the caliphate" and calling it an attack on an "apostate holiday" and revenge for Turkey's military involvement in Syria.

Reuters quoted an unnamed security source as saying that "the assailant has experience in combat for sure... He could have been fighting in Syria for years." The same source reportedly said the perpetrator was likely to have been following instructions from Islamic State.

The Kyrgyz passport photo posted on social media generated wide interest in part because it appeared to bear a resemblance to a selfie video of a man on Istanbul's central Taksim Square that was also posted on the Internet on January 3.

Closed-captioned cameras also caught images of the gunman as he shot his way into the nightclub on the Bosphorus.

IS and other militant groups frequently traffic in stolen passports, which they use for recruitment efforts and to allow their fighters to travel undetected.

WATCH: Turkish media have released video purportedly showing the suspect in a New Year's nightclub shooting in Istanbul. The 45-second selfie clip shows the man as he walks near Taksim Square in central Istanbul. It was shown on Turkish TV on January 2 without sound. The time and date of the video's capture could not be immediately verified. The video matches a still photograph of a suspect which was given to media by Turkish police on January 1. (DHA via Reuters)

It was initially unclear how the conclusions about the Kyrgyz man shown in the passport might affect the investigation.

Turkish government spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on January 2 that officials were close to identifying the gunman and had fingerprints they believed belong to the attacker.

Turkish media has widely reported that the nightclub attacker is thought to be from Central Asia.

However, the news reports are based on information from unidentified Turkish officials, or members of Turkish security bodies, and have not been publicly confirmed.

Turkish media outlet Hurriyet columnist Abdulkadir Selvi has reported that the attacker had been identified, with investigators focusing on the idea he was from Central Asia.

CNN Turk has said the suspect was believed by Turkish investigators to be of Kyrgyz origin.

And the Dogan news agency reported on January 3 that a woman suspected of being the suspect's wife had been detained in overnight police raids in the Anatolian city of Konya but gave no further details.

The attacker shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the entrance to the exclusive nightclub, then opened fire with an automatic rifle inside, reloading his weapon half a dozen times and reportedly shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground.

The Turkish news outlet Haberturk quoted a barman at the club as saying the gunman had thrown explosive devices several times during the shooting spree, apparently in order to disorientate people and give himself time to reload.

Several witnesses who spoke to Reuters also said there had been small explosions during the attack.

Turkey has suffered dozens of deadly terror attacks in the past 12 months, including on its international airport in Istanbul, with some blamed on IS and others said to be the work of Kurdish militants.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
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