Turkey nightclub attack claims victims from 14 countries
ISTANBUL (CNN) – Lubna Ghasnawi was among the glamorous crowds of young partygoers gathered inside Istanbul’s Reina nightclub to ring in 2017 in the early hours of Sunday when a gunman opened fire, killing her and at least 38 other people.
The 34-year-old entrepreneur was one of seven victims from Saudi Arabia who had traveled to Istanbul to attend New Year’s festivities, according to Turkish state-run news agency Anadolu.
The deadly rampage on the waterside venue, later claimed by ISIS, was an attack on cosmopolitan Turkey. The target: a popular club frequented by the country’s wealthy secular millenials and international celebrities.
Ghashwani worked full-time as a communications manager for one of Saudi Arabia’s largest banks and also co-owned a start-up with her sister called Exclusave Card, the first student discount card in Saudi Arabia.
A friend of Gashwani described her as a “torch of energy.”
“She was an optimist and loved going to new places … laughter and happiness filled whatever place she went to,” Seham al-Zahrani told CNN. “She was very ambitious and inspiring.”
At least 27 victims of the attack were foreign nationals who hailed from 14 countries, including Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Canada, according to Anadolu. At least 11 more were Turkish citizens.
These are some of their stories.
Leanne Nasser, 18, citizen of Israel
Leanne Nasser, a Palestinian from the town of Tira, begged her parents to let her go to Istanbul to celebrate New Year’s Eve with three friends. She had never before traveled abroad. At first her father refused to let her go. But her aunt, Layal Masarweh, intervened on her behalf.
“Her father was totally against that,” Masarweh, who helped convince Nasser’s father to let her go, told CNN. “He was saying that Istanbul is too dangerous and that she should not go at all. But she insisted, saying that nothing will happen to her.”
Nasser, 18, had finished high school in June and had big plans for her future. She worked at a dental clinic and wanted to become a dentist herself one day.
“I cannot forgive myself,” Masarweh said. “I wish I was with her to defend her or do anything to save her life. I wish they took my soul and gave it to her.”
Khushi Shah, Indian fashion designer
Khushi Shah, a young Indian fashion designer based in Mumbai, was also killed in the New Year’s Eve attack. Shah, who had started her own fashion label, KhushiZ, had traveled to Istanbul for work three days before the deadly assault.
Shah’s older brother, Akshay Shah, and her cousin, Hiren Chawra, were on their way to Istanbul to identify and repatriate her body, Shah’s cousin Priyanka Shah told CNN on Monday.
Abis Rizvi, Indian film producer
Abis Rizvi, a budding director and film producer from Mumbai, was also killed in the attack, according to the Twitter account of Indian Minister of External Affairs Shushma Swaraj.
Rizvi was the director and CEO of Rizvi Group of companies, according to the website of the company, which is involved in the real estate, education and entertainment businesses.
“We are extremely heart broken and devastated to announce the sudden demise of Abis Rizvi. May his soul rest in peace,” the film company Rizvi worked for posted on Facebook.
Condolences poured in from Bollywood after news of Rizvi’s death broke, with actors and directors sharing messages of grief.
“Devastated by the death of my friend #AbisRizvi in the dastardly terrorist attack this morning in an #Istanbul nightclub,” Bollywood actor Jaaved Jaaferi tweeted.
Pooja Bhatt, an Indian filmmaker and actress, tweeted: “Devastated to hear that our friend #AbisRizvi was shot dead in the Istanbul nightclub attack. My heart goes out to his family. RIP.”
Fatih Cakmak, 32, Turkish security guard
A Turkish security guard who was among the first to die in Sunday’s attack had narrowly escaped a double bombing in the city just three weeks earlier.
Fatih Cakmak had considered himself lucky after surviving the attack on December 10 outside Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena, where he was working security for a football match.
His father, Hassan Cakmak, said he is stunned that he survived his son, who was 32 years old.
“It was just a regular day. He lived at home. He went to work and now he’s gone,” Hassan told CNN at his son’s funeral in Istanbul’s Bagcilar neighborhood on Monday.
Ilyas Tas, owner of Favori Vip, the security company that Cakmak worked for, posted two photos of his former employee and friend on his Facebook page, writing that he “felt broken.”
“When the attack happened last night, I heard it from other friends. I called Fatih till 5 am and his phone was ringing but he wasn’t answering. I was so upset. It really hurt me,” Tas told CNN. “Fatih was really great at his job. He was quiet and calm. Everybody loved him so much, that is why his funeral was so crowded.”
Kerim Akyil, 23, Belgian-Turkish citizen
Another victim, Kerim Akyil, had dual Belgian-Turkish citizenship, according to Anadolu and Belgian officials.
Residents in the Belgian town of Houthalen-Helchteren gathered on Monday for a candlelit vigil to honor the 23-year-old. Houthalen-Helchteren Mayor Alain Yzermans posted a statement on Facebook expressing sympathy for Akyil’s family.
Rita Chami, Lebanese national
Lebanon and Iraq each lost three citizens, Anadolu reported. The family of Lebanese national Rita Chami announced her death, her brother Haitham Chami told the National News Agency (NNA).
Elias Wardini, Lebanese national
The Lebanese General Consul in Istanbul also confirmed the deaths of Elias Wardini and a third victim, Haikal Mussalem, NNA reported. According to the NNA, Planning Affairs Minister Michel Pharaon informed Wardini’s family of his death on Sunday.
Burak Yildiz, 22, Turkish policeman
A police officer was among the dead, said Ali Seker, a parliament member in Istanbul, according to Anadolu.
Burhanettin Kocamaz, mayor of Mersin Metropolitan Municipality, confirmed his identity as Burak Yildiz. The 22-year-old was the youngest of three children and his brother is an officer in Istanbul, Anadolu reported. Many left condolences on his Instagram page.