Funerals across Middle East for Istanbul victims
ISTANBUL - Funerals were being held across the Middle East Tuesday for victims of the Istanbul nightclub shooting, many of them young party-goers whose lives were cut tragically short by the attack.
A total of 39 people were killed in the assault claimed by the Islamic State group, most of them foreigners and many nationals of Arab countries.
From Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Tunisia, Morocco and Libya, the victims had travelled to Istanbul to spend New Year's Eve at the exclusive Reina club on the shores of the Bosphorus.
Their bodies have now been flying home, many arriving at airports draped in their national flags, to be met by grieving relatives.
- 'People who love life' -
In Lebanon, there has been widespread shock and mourning over the deaths of the three Lebanese killed.
Rita Shami was a 26-year-old student. Elias Wardini, also 26, was a personal trainer. Haykal Musallem was a 36-year-old physical trainer with the Tadamon Zouk basketball team whose wife managed to survive the attack.
The bodies of the three were flown home on Monday along with some of the Lebanese wounded and greeted by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
"Terrorism has no religion, it targets us all, it targets people who love life," he said at Beirut airport.
On Tuesday, Wardini's body was carried through the streets of Ashrafiyeh, the largely Christian district of Beirut, to the sounds of traditional darbuka drums and trumpets.
At the district's Notre Dame church, his open casket was lifted over the heads of friends and family, beneath giant portraits reading "The Angel of Ashrafiyeh" and "The Groom of Ashrafiyeh".
As is tradition in Lebanon for the death of young unmarried people, the funeral ceremony included the trappings of a wedding, with the church decorated in white flowers.
His two older sisters collapsed several times during the ceremony, one them shouting at the body: "Get up! Why don't you answer me?"
The night before a minute of silence had been observed for the three victims during a basketball match between Tadamon, where Musallem worked, and Beirut club La Sagesse, Wardini's favourite team. Portraits of the three victims hung over the stands.
- 'Kind, loveable and clever' -
Palestinian Lian Nasser was only 18 and on her first trip away from her family when she was killed in the attack.
On Tuesday in her small predominantly Muslim hometown of Tira north of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, most of the shops and restaurants were closed before her funeral, with a few thousand people gathering to pay their respects.
Several hundred women, many in tears, poured into the family home before the coffin was taken to a mosque prior to being buried.
"She was kind, loveable and clever," her uncle Rani said at the funeral. "It's so hard to understand. A few days ago we could hold her and now she is gone."
In front of the plain wooden coffin, Abdul Rahman Kashoa, a local imam, gave a sermon about the distortion of Islam.
"There can never be a justification for this," he told AFP correspondents afterwards.
Palestinians, the overwhelming majority of them Muslim, account for about 17.5 percent of Israel's population.
- Five-month-old orphaned -
Funerals were also to be held later Tuesday for two Tunisian victims of the attack, husband and wife Mohamed Azzabi and Senda Nakaa who left behind a five-month-old daughter.
Nakaa was also a French citizen, and French ambassador Olivier Poivre d'Arvor was on hand when their bodies arrived at Tunis airport on Monday.
"I am thinking of her family, of her parents, of little five-month-old Chirine who is now an orphan," he said. "France will treat her as a ward of the nation."
Details were also emerging about some Saudi victims of the attacks.
Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul has confirmed that Saudis were among the victims, without saying how many. Saudi media reports have reported seven killed and 13 wounded.
- Twin Saudi brothers -
The Saudi Gazette on Tuesday reported that among the victims were Saudi twins Mohammed and Ahmed Saud Al-Fadl, 24, who died together in the attack.
They had just graduated from university, said the newspaper, which ran a picture of the brothers wearing matching shirts and identical glasses.
It identified another of the Saudi victims as 24-year-old Lubna Ghaznawi, who was at the club with two girlfriends.
Funerals were also held in Jordan Tuesday for two men killed in the attack, Nawras Assaf and Mohammad Al-Sarraf, as members of the Jordanian parliament held a moment of silence for the victims.
In Morocco, the bodies of two victims were due to arrive on Tuesday afternoon.
Three Iraqis, a Kuwaiti man and a Libyan were also among those killed, along with 11 Turks and other victims from India, Germany, Russia, Canada and Belgium.