Was the Istanbul Nightclub Attack the First ISIS Uyghur Terror Attack outside China?

More and more novel features are emerging from the Turkish investigation into the Islamic State massacre in the Istanbul Reina. During the hour after ringing in the New Year, 39 revelers were dead and 69 injured.
The leading suspect still at large, identified as Lakhe Mashrapov, was the first Uyghur to have carried out a terror attack outside China. His “long-barreled” gun had never been seen before by Turkish anti-terror investigators; and the attack bore the hallmarks of a professional killer rather than a crazed fanatical terrorist.
The Turkish authorities are releasing a daily shower of details about their findings, some contradictory or unreal, while masking their baffled frustration over the failed manhunt.
They are now fingering Lakhe Mashrapov, a Turkic-speaking Uyghur from Central Asian -– dubbed “Abu Muhammed Horasan” by ISIS – as the perpetrator. They don’t know when he arrived in Turkey, except that he came with a wife and two children along with a group of families from the same Central Asian region.
After renting neighboring homes in the Central Anatolian province of Konya, the arrivals got in touch with a jihadist group called “Emir” in Istanbul, which is believed to be linked to ISIS headquarters in Raqqa.
The entire Konya group vanished the day before the attack, except for the terrorist’s wife and children who were taken into custody and questioned.
DEBKA Weekly’s counterterrorism sources believe accomplices bundled the killer out of the country directly after the attack.
On Thursday, Jan. 5, the Istanbul Police Department’s Anti-Terror Branch raided a housing community in Istanbul’s Silivri district and arrested several suspects accused of aiding and abetting the attack. According to anonymous sources, they were Uyghur Muslims who came originally from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwestern China.
There are various theories to account for Mashrapov’s professional, coldblooded style of murder, shooting from the hip rather than like a sniper: He was trained by a Russian, Caucasian or Asian covert operations outfit – or, perhaps, was taught street fighting in Syrian urban areas.
Witnesses reported that he acted as though he had killed people before.
The sequence of events has been reconstructed in the five days since the attack.
At 12:35 on New Year’s Eve, the killer caught a taxi from the southern Istanbul district of Zeytinburnu and told the driver to go to an address in Ortaköy. When he saw cars piling up outside the club, he stopped the cab some distance away, paid the driver and walked four minutes to the address, arriving at 01:20 a.m.
He began shooting as he walked, killing a policeman and civilian at the entrance to the club.
Three minutes later, he was inside.
It is not clear at what point he donned his Santa Clause disguise. At all events, a video clip shows him wearing a green shirt, dark trousers and black boots as he fired a long-barreled weapon to the upper bodies of the revelers in the club. He then climbed to the upper level and continued shooting, before going downstairs again. Witnesses said he then shot people lying injured on the floor to the head.
In the course of the attack, he fired 189 bullets and changed six chargers. According to one of our sources, he carried an explosive device in preparation for a suicide attack, but must have reconsidered, because instead of detonating it, he got away alive.
Before leaving the scene, he went into the kitchen of the Reina club and stayed there for around 13 minutes. Witnesses said he changed his clothes, peeled off a coat and took advantage of the panic and bedlam to escape the scene. He smeared himself with blood from his victims and so mingled with the wounded casualties running out of the club.
But before he did, he ignored the agonized screams from the club to meticulously clean his weapon. This was the mark of a cool, professional killer, who made sure that his gun remained in perfect working condition.
This also suggests another feature of this spine-chilling scenario.
He was unarmed when he set out from southern Istanbul for the taxi drive to the club, and picked up the “long-barreled” gun from one or more accomplices while walking to the address.
That same cell member collected the weapon, when he came out of the club, proudly handing over a perfectly clear gun to flaunt the accomplishment of a perfect mission.
Turkish investigators examining the cartridges said they had never seen this type of gun before.
Mashrapov’s next action was to catch another cab and drive to nearby Kurçeşme, where he told the driver he had no money to pay the fare. However, Turkish investigators found 500 Turkish liras in the pocket of the coat he left behind in the Reina kitchen.
They believe he wore two coats when he entered the club and left wearing one.
At Kurçeşme, a getaway car was waiting to whisk him out of Istanbul before the police had recovered and launched a manhunt. The Turkish police know this because, during the ride, the killer asked the taxi driver for a loan of his cell phone to make a call. That was probably when he warned his confederates to arrange to get him out of Turkey. The call was recorded on the cab driver’s phone.
DEBKA Weekly reports the conviction in the Turkish Police Anti-Terror Branch that the same ISIS cell perpetrated both the Reina club atrocity and the suicide and shooting attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in June, in which 45 people lost their lives and 230 were injured.
But their failure to nab the cell and neutralize it after six months is a mark of the ineffectiveness of Turkey’s anti-terrorist campaign and its supervisor, the MIT National Intelligence Agency.
Last July, a month after the airport attack, three suicide bombers from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan were identified as the perpetrators amid speculation that it was masterminded by Akhmed Chatayev, a Chechen terrorist who serves as a high-profile lieutenant in the ISIS organization.
Despite that knowledge, this dangerous Russian-Caucasian-Asian cell is still at large. It is still free to operate in Turkey and maintain a wide variety of communications and support lines running from the central ISIS hub in Syria, on the one hand, and, on the other, through the Muslim countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, and Dagestan, Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria in the Caucasus.
Some of those lines are proven by the Reina club attack to reach all the way to China.

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