The trial of Abdulgadir Masharipov, a suspect accused of gunning down 39 people in an Istanbul nightclub in January on behalf of Daesh, began yesterday under strict security measures in the city.
Uzbek-born Masharipov and 51 other suspects accused of aiding and abetting him were brought to the courthouse located near the prison where he was held in Silivri, a district on the outskirts of Istanbul that mainly houses terror suspects. Six other suspects in the case remain at large.
Masharipov and others were held separately at the first hearing. Some surviving victims of the attack were among those attending the trial as plaintiffs.
He invoked his right to remain silent, telling the court he would not speak without privately consulting with his lawyer, who was seated separately. Angered by the defendant's request, the chief judge said he would not allow "courtroom antics" and ordered him to either present his defense or remain silent.
Masharipov faces 40 separate life sentences without the possibility of parole in addition to decades in jail for those he wounded. When Daesh attacker Masharipov opened fire on partygoers at the Reina nightclub in Istanbul's Ortaköy district early New Year's Day, 39 people, including a police officer, were killed, while 79 others were injured in the attack.
The suspect has already admitted to being a member of the Daesh terror group and told prosecutors that he has university qualifications and is a teacher. He noted that prior to carrying out the Reina terrorist attack he had never been part of any Daesh-sponsored act. In his first testimony to the court after a lengthy interrogation, Masharipov said he was not "an enemy" of Turkey, and he only acted "in retaliation," referring to Turkey's crackdown on the terrorist group active in Iraq and Syria.
He said in his first testimony to interrogators that after he stormed the Reina nightclub at 1:15 a.m. on New Year's where he randomly opened fire on the revelers, he tried to kill himself, but failed. He said he was given hand grenades but realized they were actually "flash bangs" when he pulled the pin on one near his face to kill himself after mowing down the crowd at the club. "I would have killed myself so that I wouldn't fall into the hands [of the police]. It was a suicide [attack]," Masharipov added, saying he would "gladly" accept a death sentence. Turkey abolished the death penalty, but Masharipov will likely face life in prison without parole.
Though the suspect claimed he tried to kill himself, he was found with other Daesh sympathizers hiding in a residence in the Esenyurt district of Istanbul on Jan. 16 after being on the run for two weeks, after avoiding a confrontation with police where he narrowly escaped capture at a checkpoint while he was on the run.
He told police earlier that he originally intended to carry out an attack in Taksim, a popular square in Istanbul but changed his target after realizing that security was too tight. He also recorded a video days before the attack declaring his intention to carry out a suicide bomb attack and asking his family to coach his son to be a suicide bomber in the future.
İlyas Mamaşaripov, Abdurrauf Sert, Ali Jameel Mohammed and Masharipov's wife Zarina Nurullayeva also face similar prison terms for aiding and abetting the murderer. The indictment said investigations had led to detailed searches of 152 houses across the country, while 642 foreign nationals detained as part of the operations were deported.
The indictment says that 2,000 police officers were involved in the investigation and that experts had to comb through 7,200 hours of footage to find the suspect. Russian national Islam Atabiev, who was fighting in Syria for Daesh under the pseudonym Abu Jihad, is said to have ordered the attack. In a farewell video he recorded on Dec. 27, 2016, Masharipov told his son to be good to his mother and grow up to carry out a suicide attack like his father.Turkey has been targeted by a wave of deadly Daesh attacks since 2015. Ankara has deported more than 5,000 Daesh suspects and 3,290 foreign terrorists from 95 countries in recent years, and has dismantled several terrorist cells and safe houses that provided the terrorist group logistical assistance in Syria and Iraq, and for plotting attacks inside the country.
Turkey's efforts against Daesh made it a primary target for the terrorist group, which has carried out numerous gun and bomb attacks targeting security forces and civilians.
This includes the country's deadliest terrorist attack, which killed 102 people and wounded 400 others in a twin suicide bombing at a peace rally in Ankara on Oct. 10, 2015.
Hundreds of Daesh terrorists are headed toward Europe after secretly escaping war-torn Syria thanks to a deal that was struck between the terror group and the U.S.-backed Syrian Domestic Forces (SDF), which is mostly made up of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the PKK's Syrian offshoot.
According to a report published last Tuesday by The Times, the controversial deal, which has heightened Europe's security woes, allowed hundreds of Daesh militants to escape Raqqa during the evacuation of civilians, paving the way for the terrorists to enter mainland Europe via smuggling routes - a danger Turkey has warned Europe about on many occasions.