Ergin Tosun was at home in France on New Year’s Eve when he saw a Snapchat notification on his phone. It was a message from his brother, 21-year-old Fikri Tosun who had travelled to Turkey's largest city, Istanbul, to ring in 2017.
“Brother, I love you…I’m going to die,” was all the Snapchat text said. The following messages were gibberish, typed in desperate circumstances by Fikri to his brother.
What Ergin did not know was that around 1:15 am (10:15 GMT) a man armed with an assault rifle had opened fire inside Reina, a popular nightclub in Istanbul on the banks of the Bosphorus river, killing at least 39 people and wounding dozens of others.
Ergin immediately called his brother, but there was no response. At that point, all Ergin knew was that Fikri was in partying in the club that was frequented by local celebrities and in previous years stars such as Daniel Craig and Kylie Minogue. The brothers were born in France after their family had migrated from Turkey in the 1980s.
An hour after Fikri’s worrying messages, his family learnt an attack had taken place. Ergin and his father arrived in Istanbul the next morning, not knowing what to expect. By Monday morning, they only had more questions.
They learnt that Fikri was alive but was recovering from gunshot wounds to the leg and the arm. He had undergone two surgeries at a private hospital in Istanbul and was under intensive care on Monday in an induced coma.
Fikri’s grandfather — who shares the same name as his grandson — said doctors allowed him access to the injured young man on Sunday but not since. “He has two tubes in his mouth,” Fikri senior told TRT World.
The family was not sure what condition Fikri would be in when he regains consciousness. They stood outside the hospital, smoking and drinking tea as they waited for Fikri to wake up.
Before the violent attack, Fikri was just a regular 21-year-old with a job and a girlfriend. He was a fan of Fenerbahce and Paris Saint-Germain, Turkish and French football teams, and loved to travel.
His cousin Hakan Aydin, who also lives in France, said, “Fikri is so young. He has a good personality; he would mind his own business. He just came to Turkey for New Year’s […] to see his relatives and celebrate the New Year in his country.”
The morning of the attack, club owner Mehmet Kocarslan said he was aware of the possibility of an attack and security had been improved. But that was not enough to stop the attacker.
Visibly weary, Fikri’s father Nafiz Tosun was trembling with rage as he blamed the owner of Reina for the security lax. “Before this incident, there was a notification an attack could take place in Nice, Montpellier, Paris, Bordeaux and Turkey. Why didn’t the club take precautions?” Nafiz told TRT World. “Can you provide security with two or three police officers? You run a place of business,” he said, referring to Reina’s owner.
The US State Department later clarified their position: "Contrary to to rumours circulating in social media, the US government had no information about threats to specific entertainment venues, including the Reina Club, and the US Government did not warn Americans to stay away from specific venues or neighborhoods."
Nafiz questioned how his son and dozens of others fell victim to a lone individual. “How can one person do all of this? How can he dare do this?” argued Nafiz.
The attacker was reported to have used an assault rifle, and it is prohibited for civilians to use firearms in Turkey and fired over 180 bullets, according to Hurriyet Daily, a Turkish news organisation. The father was left wondering how he could have obtained those. “That means some big people supported him.” An investigation into the attack is still ongoing, however, and evidence as to the weapon or its provenance has yet to be released. A manhunt for the perpetrator continues.
Earlier on Monday, Daesh claimed responsibility, but it is still unknown what, if any, links or support the attacker had from the group.
“He is a part of me,” his 27-year-old brother said about Fikri, before walked back to his family to wait for more news.