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Turkish Police Arrest Alleged Planner Behind Nightclub Attack

FILE - Ambulances wait near the scene of an attack in Istanbul, early Jan. 1, 2017.

Turkish security forces on Tuesday said they had arrested a French citizen of Turkish origin who was allegedly one of the planners behind a New Year’s Day nightclub bombing in Istanbul that killed 39 people and wounded 65.

Prosecutors identified the 22-year-old man by the initials A.S. and said he was arrested in Istanbul on February 12. He allegedly signed the lease on a home rented to nightclub attack suspect Abdulkadir Masharipov, who is an Uzbek national. Nine other suspects are also in custody — all linked to the Islamic State group, Turkish authorities say.

The Turkish Daily Sabah said the suspect was born in Turkey and had been living in France and Turkey. He was charged with being affiliated with a terrorist organization. Prosecutor Sadi Doğan told Turkish media that A.S. helped orchestrate the attack.

News reports, citing testimony given in court Saturday, said Masharipov admitted to being an IS follower. He was quoted as telling the court that “it would be good if he was given capital punishment.”

Masharipov was charged Saturday with belonging to an armed terrorist group — Islamic State — possession of heavy weapons, attempting to destroy constitutional order, and murder.

The suspect fled from the scene of the shootings by blending into the chaotic crowds, police said. Masharipov was arrested 17 days later in Istanbul after a nationwide manhunt.

Authorities said he received terrorist training in Afghanistan and that he had confessed to the Reina nightclub attack, which occurred early January 1.

Oner Bucukcu, a Turkish expert on terrorism, said IS has been conducting terror attacks in Turkey since Turkish-backed forces entered northern Syria last summer to push out IS in an operation labeled Euphrates Shield.

“With the Euphrates Shield operation on, border crossings stopped and IS began to use its sleeping cells and Central Asian militants in Turkey,” Bucukcu said.

Bucukcu said IS has few Turkish followers, so it “has been using its Central Asian militants” to conduct terror in Turkey.

Turkey has long been a transit point for hundreds of Central Asian radicals moving into Syria and Iraq to join IS.

The Soufan Group, a security intelligence firm, estimated in December 2015 that about 4,700 IS fighters in Iraq and Syria were from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

The New Year’s attack in Turkey was the third within a year linked to Central Asians affiliated with IS.