Istanbul—As midnight swept across the globe, Istanbul was a city like any other. At the Reina nightclub on the west bank of the Bosphorus, patrons popped champagne corks, celebrating the end of an unusually tumultuous year by dancing the night away to the beats of DJ Abdullah Can Saraç.
Just one and a half hours into the new year, an armed gunman stormed onto the dance floor, opening fire on more than 600 people gathered in the club, killing 39 and injuring dozens more.
“People were dancing, having fun,” Saraç recalls. When the shooting began, a friend pulled him down into the narrow space of the DJ booth, where the pair waited out the attack.
For the next, chaos ensued. Those who were able to escape poured out of the club, running through the wet snow, many in high heels and short dresses, as ambulances raced to the scene. Some trapped inside jumped into the freezing Bosphorus to escape the attacker, while others dropped to the floor, playing dead as he continued to fire off multiple rounds.
By the time the special forces had come to evacuate the club, the attacker had fled—leaving behind only his empty Kalashnikov rifle.
Before long, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack. “A hero soldier of the caliphate attacked one of the most famous nightclubs, where Christians celebrate their pagan holiday,”. “They used hand grenades and machine guns and transformed their celebration to mourning.”
A few hours after the attack, the doors to the nightclub were covered with plastic tarp, as armed policemen stood guard with riot shields. Next to the police barricades, mourners lit candles over a makeshift memorial—a bed of carnations. Next to the police barricades there was a billboard with an image of a DJ and these ominous words: “Tonight is your time.”
While the attacks were shocking, they were not entirely unexpected. In anticipation of New Year’s Eve, the United States Embassy that advised American citizens to avoid crowded areas and places known to be popular among foreigners. After a year that saw — —many tourists and expats opted to keep a low profile, wary of spending extended time in large crowds or in popular neighborhoods.