Gunman dressed as Santa attacks Istanbul nightclub, killing 39

People leave the scene of the attack in Istanbul. (AFP)

An armed assailant who is believed to have been dressed in a Santa Claus costume opened fire at a nightclub in Istanbul during New Year's celebrations, killing at least 39 people and wounding nearly 70 others.

According to Anadolu Agency of Turkey, Suleyman Soylu told reporters that 21 victims have been identified.

"16 of the victims are foreigners while the other five are Turkish citizens," the minister said, adding that efforts continue to identify the other 18 bodies.

Soylu said police forces were hunting down the terrorist.

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