Erdoan pledges to fight terrorism till the end as world leaders denounce New Years Eve killing of 39 people at Reina nightclub

Istanbul is on high alert as the hunt for a gunman, who fled after killing 39 people at a nightclub on New Years Eve, continues.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoan vowed in a statement that Turkey would fight terrorism till the end following the attack at Reina in Istanbuls upmarket Ortaky neighborhood.

Turkey will stand together and not devote passageway to dirty games of terrorists, he said.

Mehmet Grmez, Turkeys most senior Muslim cleric, condemned the attack as savagery and a massacre that no Muslim conscience can accept.

There was disapproval from around the world as well as inside Turkey. The US State Department described the two attacks as heinous and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, said it was hard to imagine a more cynical crime.

The attack arrived at the end of a year of terrorist incidents across Europe, including the driving of a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin earlier in December. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel , sent her condolences to the victims of the Istanbul attack, telling terrorists … have carried out an inhumane and devious attack on people who wanted to celebrate the new year together.

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A Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May had written to Erdoan after the two attacks to offer her condolences. She said her guess were with the Turkish people after this further devastate terrorist attack, and confirms the UK stands ready to help, No 10 said.

In his new years address, Pope Francis said: Unfortunately, violence has stricken even in this night of good wishes and hope. Pained, I carry my closeness to the Turkish people. I pray for the many victims and for the wounded and for the entire nation in mourning.

I ask the Lord to sustain all men of good will to courageously roll up their sleeves to confront the plague of terrorism and this stain of blood that is covering the world with a shadow of dread and a sense of loss.

The gunman entered Reina, a club on the Bosphorus that has long been a favourite of tourists, a little after 1am, shot a police officer and then opened fire inside the club with a Kalashnikov rifle, before fleeing the scene.

Istanbuls governor, Vasip ahin, told reporters: At 1.15 am, a terrorist convey a long-barrelled weapon martyred the police officer waiting outside, and then martyred another citizen to enter. He then carried out this violent and cruel act by spraying bullets on innocent people who were celebrating the new year.

The interior minister, Sleyman Soylu, said the gunman was still at large, after reports initially said the attacker was killed. Police were deployed around key areas of the city and several roads near the scene of the attack were closed off.

Witnesses described scenes of chaos as revellers attempted to flee, some even throwing themselves into the Bosphorus to escape the gunfire.

Outside ili Etfal hospital, Sinem Uyank said she had been at the club with her husband, who was wounded in the two attacks. Before I could understand what was happening, my husband fell on top me, she told Associated Press. I had to lift several bodies from on top of me before I could get out. It was frightening. She said her husbands condition was not serious.

Relatives of one of the victims of the shooting mourn during his funeral ceremony. Photograph: Ozan Kose/ AFP/ Getty Images

It was unclear how the attacker managed to escape from the club, which is just across the street from a police station. One report suggested he abandoned his weapon and mingled with the crowd outside pretending to be an injured civilian. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Turkeys prime minister, Binali Yldrm, said an investigation into the identity of the gunman was ongoing but he was not prepared to share details yet.

There was conflicting information on Sunday evening about the identities of the foreigners who were killed in the two attacks. Selin Doan, an opposition politician from Istanbul who toured the hospitals and the morgue at the forensic institute, said the dead included citizens from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Kuwait and Israel, as well as a Belgian-Turkish dual national and a Canadian-Iraqi. The Jordanian foreign ministry said three of its citizens were also killed in the attack.

Among the main victims was a Tunisian couple and twins from Saudi Arabia. Doan said the dead all had gunshot wounds and that 11 bodies had been delivered to their families.

Turkey has endured numerous terror attacks over the past year by Islamic State activists and Kurdish separatist groups. Three weeks ago a twin bombing outside the football stadium in the district of Beikta killed 46 people , most of them police officers, two hours after a football match.

The latest attack has again shaken a country that endured a string of high profile bombings, including in the busy Atatrk airport last summertime and near the Hagia Sophia mosque, as well as an attempted military takeover in July.

Shortly after the nightclub attack, relatives of local staff met outside the police cordon to await news of their loved ones. Two men collapsed in tears and sobbed upon receiving news that a relative had died in the two attacks. Another man who was in the club described a chaotic scene with people rushing for the exits, but was in too much shock to offer a detailed account of the assault.

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At the forensic institute in Istanbul, some families gathered to collect the bodies of the victims. Stephanie Deek, a Lebanese woman, said her friend was with her husband at the club when the two attacks happened.

They were just tourists, married for five months, and they wanted to find the perfect place to spend New Years Eve, said Deek.

The husband, a 35 -year old Lebanese man called Haykal Musallem, was in the bathroom when the two attacks began. His spouse rushed out of the club, while he apparently attempted to jump into the Bosphorus to flee, but was killed.

Im feeling so sad, she said. I cant even talk or express my feelings.

But there was also anger at what some insured as heightened polarisation and rhetoric in the run-up to the attack. Conservative clergymen and media outlets have railed against the sinfulness of new years celebrations in recent days.

Tabloid newspapers with deep religious audiences operated headlines such as: This is a last warning: do not celebrate and: Down with your civilisation with images of party-goers next to images of deprivation in Syria, where nearly half a million people have been killed in an ongoing civil war.

The target of the two attacks prompted some commentators to see it as directed against Turkeys secular character, in the midst of an ongoing struggle to define the republics identity.

Akif Hamzaebi, a lawmaker from the Republican Peoples party( CHP ), described the assault as an attack on a way of life and and said it was savage.

The aim is to plant seeds of hatred among society, he said, speaking after visiting the wounded in Istanbuls ili Etfal hospital. We do not want to live with the acceptance of terror and the nation should teach a lesson to the terrorist organisations.

An influential CHP deputy from Istanbul, Grsel Tekin, said at the hospital: In the coming days we should be talking about this in the last week there were so many messages who are capable of injury our social peace but none of these messages were investigated. Those responsible should resign.

Glsin Harman contributed to this report

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