“These were my guests. I let them down. I want to do nothing but take care of my guests.”
Police checks had been increased around Istanbul for the festivities, and Kocarslan had also made sure his Reina club had extra security. But he said they had no hope against a well-armed and determined killer.
“This gunman is unbelievable. I believe he has been fighting in war for many years. He was too professional,” Kocarslan said. “How can a guy with a pistol win against a man with a war machine?”
One armed policeman was positioned outside the club, but the security officers inside had no weapons. The law in Turkey does not allow security guards to have guns.
“We must change this law. We are dealing with terrorism. We need to do something,” he said.
Kocarslan was at another of his properties in Istanbul, just up the Bosporus from the Reina on the night of the shooting.
He says his legs buckled when he heard that the club he founded, and named after one of his daughters, was under attack. Reina means Queen.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack and more than 20 members of the terror group have been detained in subsequent police raids, state-run news agency Anadolu reported Wednesday.
‘I can’t sleep more than two hours a night’
Kocarslan’s business partner Ali Unal was standing outside the club when the gunman stormed past, taking aim at anyone who moved.
Unal believes he only survived because he fell over an iron fence while trying to get away and the attacker thought he was dead.
“I feel terrible, I can’t sleep more than two hours a night. It just like in the Perfect Storm movie where the guy knows he is going to die and he is only worried about his children….,” he says, his voice trailing. He walks away, unable to continue the interview because he can’t contain his tears.
Once inside the club, witnesses say the gunman seemed to move like a soldier, methodically going table-to-table, taking aim and shooting as many people as he could.
CNN viewed yet to be released video of the attacker as he picked his targets and hurled smoke bombs into the terrified crowd.
Club’s fate uncertain
Days after the attack, bullet holes from the gunman’s high caliber gun remained. Chunks of a wall and bar were missing. Blood stains still on an outside wall leading to the back terrace that overlooks the Bosporus.
It was once a view that once brought people together. Now, it’s a reminder of all that was lost.
Kocarslan can’t decide, for now, whether he can bear opening the club again.
He spent 16 years building the Reina’s reputation as one of the most popular and high-end clubs in the city. But in a matter of minutes all that was destroyed.
“I am not sure. If I did not re-open, they will be successful. The terrorism win. But still 39 people are on my shoulders, I don’t know what I am going to do.”
He then said he would leave it up to his staff; the ones who survived will make the call.
“They were heroes. Many saved people. But some of my staff died too. I am too sad over this.”