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Istanbul nightclub massacre: Two arrested as hunt for killer continues

Police arrest two foreigners at Ataturk airport, amid claims chief suspect in NYE attack fought for IS in Syria
Turkish police stand guard outside Reina nightclub in Istanbul (AFP)

Turkish police have arrested two foreign nationals in connection with an Istanbul nightclub massacre of 39 people, as claims emerged the killer had trained with the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and was travelling with his family.

The suspects were arrested on Tuesday afternoon at Ataturk international airport, Turkish media said, but no further information was provided by police.

The HaberTurk newspaper meanwhile said the attacker had arrived in Istanbul from the southern city of Konya with a woman and two children "so as not to attract attention".

Turkish reports also stated that the woman was his wife, and that she and two children were now in custody.

The woman insisted she had no clue the man was linked to IS, which on Monday said one of its "soldiers" carried out the massacre at the Reina nightclub.

However, none of the reports are official; Turkey's government has not verified any of the information and has issued no statement on the investigation since Sunday night. 

As Turkey arrested two people in connection with the New Year's shooting in Istanbul, Turkey's parliament on Tuesday approved a government-backed motion to extend by another three months the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the July 15 failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The state of emergency - which has seen tens of thousands lose their jobs or be arrested on suspicion of links to the putsch - had already been prolonged once before and was due to expire on 19 January.

Hurriyet's well-connected columnist Abdulkadir Selvi meanwhile said the attacker had fought with IS in Syria and was well drilled in weapons and street fighting techniques.

The attacker had been identified, with investigators focusing on the idea he was from Central Asia.

He said he had been trained in fighting in built-up areas in Syria and used these techniques in the attack, shooting from the hip rather than as a sniper.

The attacker had been "specially selected" to carry out the shooting, he said.

Numan Kurtulmus, Turkey's deputy prime minister, said on Monday that authorities had obtained fingerprint data about the attacker and expressed hope he would be "speedily" identified.

Selvi said that an IS attack was also planned in Ankara on New Year's night, but that it had been prevented after eight IS suspects were arrested in the city. There were no further details.

The arrests and claims of the killer's background came hours after a video emerged of what Turkish media claimed was the chief suspect in the attack - a Kyrgyz national who filmed himself walking around Taksim Square.

State news network TRT published - but then deleted - an image of what it said was the passport of the alleged attacker, named as Lakhe Mashrapov, 28.

In an interview with Kyrgyz media, Mashrapov on Tuesday said he was not involved in the attack, and was not in Turkey on New Year's Eve. He had been briefly questioned by Turkish police due to his resemblance to a suspect in the killing.

Kyrgystan's national security committee said it was looking into the "possible involvement involvement of a citizen of Kyrgyzstan in the attack in Istanbul". 

Rakhat Soulaimov, a spokesman for the intelligence service, said authorities had questioned Machrapov upon his return from Turkey after Turkish media reported he was a possible suspect in the attack.

"Members of the GKNB transferred him to a regional bureau where he was questioned. The details will be released later," Soulaimov said.

The foreign ministry in Kyrgyzstan said it was "improbable" that one of its nationals was involved, but said it was "checking anyway".