SILIVRI, Turkey: An Uzbek militant who confessed to killing 39 people, including three Lebanese, at an Istanbul nightclub in a New Year gun attack refused to testify Monday on the first day of his trial. Abdulkadir Masharipov, 34 at the time of the attack, went on trial at the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul along with 56 other suspects.
Masharipov, who was present in court, faces 40 life sentences – one for each of the victims and the massacre itself.
The others on trial include Masharipov’s wife Zarina Nurullayeva who is a suspected accomplice and risks similar penalties to her husband. All but six are being held in custody.
Masharipov is facing charges ranging from “attempting to destroy constitutional order” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization,” to “murdering more than one person.”
According to the indictment, the order for the Afghanistan-trained Masharipov to carry out the attack was given by a senior Russian Syria-based Daesh (ISIS) extremist named Islam Atabiev, codenamed Abu Jihad.
Masharipov – dressed in a sweater and jeans – was seated between two members of the Turkish gendarmerie and kept well away from the other defendants in court.
When given the chance to speak by the judge, he used his right to silence and refused to testify, speaking in Uzbek translated into Turkish.
Nurullayeva, in her testimony, said she had “never had any links with any terror group.”
She described herself as a “woman who looked after her kids and who stayed under the shadow of her husband.”
She said she only found out her husband had carried out the attack when she was arrested by police, saying he had left home several days before the New Year.
Until now, she had not set eyes on him since.
Asked whether she ever considered why they were in Turkey, she replied: “My husband was discreet. He didn’t tell me anything. When I asked he used to say: ‘Don’t interfere in men’s affairs.’”
She said two men had come and taken her son Mohammad before her own arrest but she had no news about the child.
Giving his only statement of the day, Masharipov said that he did not know who had taken in his son.
“I told Abu Jihad in Syria to take him. I told him not to bring him to me as he would make noise” while Masharipov was on the run from police, he said.
Samia Maktouf, a lawyer representing a French victim and her Tunisian husband, said it was vital that all the circumstances of the attack be made clear.
“It is important and legitimate that the families know the true circumstances,” the lawyer told AFP.
“It’s extremely important that the tentacles of this international network are dismantled.”
The same lawyer confirmed that two French citizens were among the 57 accused.
Ali Akyil, whose son, Belgian citizen Kerim Akyil, lost his life in the nightclub, told the court that after the attack “I lost my life. Lost the taste of my life.”
After taking a taxi to the elite waterside Reina nightclub on the shores of the Bosphorus, Masharipov shot dead the security guard before marching inside and firing indiscriminately with his AK-47 at the terrified revelers and setting off grenades.
He then slipped away.
Daesh, which at the time controlled swaths of territory in Turkey’s neighboring Iraq and Syria, later claimed the attack.
It remains the only time it has issued an unequivocal claim for an attack in Turkey.
After a 17-day manhunt that involved 2,000 police who watched 7,200 hours of video footage, the Turkish authorities detained Masharipov in the residential Istanbul neighborhood of Esenyurt.
Of the 39 people killed in the Reina attack, 27 were foreigners including citizens from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iraq and Morocco who had gone to the club to celebrate New Year.
Seventy-nine people were wounded, among them Lebanese nationals.
With the trial taking place under high security, Turkish special forces soldiers were deployed on the balconies of a minaret of a nearby mosque to observe the area.
Masharipov, who used the Daesh code name Abu Mohammad Horasani, was just one of several nationals of the ex-Soviet state of Uzbekistan implicated in terrorist attacks this year, including deadly assaults in Stockholm and New York.
Badly damaged in the assault, the Reina nightclub, once the haunt of Istanbul football stars and soap opera icons, was demolished in May on the grounds it had violated local construction legislation.
Turkey was battered by repeated attacks by militants and Kurdish extremists in 2016. However, there has been no large-scale attack comparable to the Reina atrocity since.