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Christians were targeted by an ISIS member dressed as Santa at an Istanbul nightclub.

An ISIS-linked attack left 39 dead and many more injured when a gunman fired at a popular nightclub in Istanbul, where a group of Christians were celebrating what ISIS called “a pagan feast.” The gunman was dressed in a Santa costume and has been hailed as a hero and warrior by ISIS. The attacker is still at large.

Turkey has long been a nemesis of ISIS because of the country’s involvement in fighting ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. ISIS calls Turkey “Servants of the Cross,” implying their friendship with Christian nations and the freedom that minorities such as Christians enjoy in Turkey.

According to the ISIS-linked Aamaq News Agency, the gunman who carried out the attack did so in order to take “revenge for God's religion and in response to the orders" of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. They even called the gunman a "heroic soldier of the caliphate." ISIS made it clear they did not regret the lives lost at the Reina nightclub, because according to them, the Christians were celebrating an “apostate holiday” and so, deserved to be punished.

The gunman had posted a video of himself online which gave the authorities an idea about how the gunman looks. Based on this video, Turkish authorities arrested a business traveler from Kyrgyzstan, Lakhe Mashrapov because he seemed to have similar features with the man in the video. In fact, Mashrapov’s photos were circulated online, although he says he has no clue how anybody could lay hands on his passport photo.

Mashrapov was released after being questioned by the Turkish police, but was again detained by authorities back home. Mashrapov claims at the time of the attack he was in Kyrgyzstan, and so there was no way he could have carried out the attack.

Speculations are being made the gunman may have escaped to Syria, from where he may have traveled to Turkey with his family. Authorities have also pointed out that the way on which the attack was carried out suggests the assailant was well-trained in combat and was not a novice. In fact, it is guessed that the gunman may have been a militant in Syria.

The Turkish police have arrested around 20 suspects.

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