The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul, although doubts remain over the perpetrator and motivation for the attack, which Turkish authorities are investigating. Two individuals, their faces covered with balaclavas, entered the temple during Sunday mass and opened fire in the air and on a specific person, who died shortly after in a hospital where he had been transferred. The minister announced the arrest of the two alleged attackers.
In a statement posted on social networks, the Amaq agency, linked to the jihadist group, asserts that “two Islamic State fighters carried out an attack against a Christian church” in “response to calls for an attack from the leaders of The Islamic State”. Jews and Christians around the world. However, the way in which the statement is expressed – different from previous texts in which it claimed responsibility for other attacks – and the fact that it includes information published shortly after the attack, but subsequently denied, raises doubts about authorship and the question of whether this is an attack directly linked to the jihadist organization, inspired by its ideas or, quite simply, the group is trying to profit from the incident by taking credit for it opportunistically. It is also not excluded that this is an attack carried out by a criminal group.
The events occurred on Sunday at 11:40 a.m. (two hours less in mainland Spain) when two individuals entered the church of Santa María, located in the northern district of Sariyer, very close to the Bosphorus Strait. At that time, Sunday mass was celebrated, in the presence, among other regular members of the parish, of the Consul General of Poland in Istanbul, Witold Lesniak, and his family.
In a security camera recording inside the church, which was broadcast by several Turkish media outlets before a court banned its publication, a white-haired man is seen entering the church in the middle of the ceremony, and immediately behind him, arrive two individuals covered in hoods. A shot is fired towards the roof of the temple, after which worshipers crouch for protection behind benches and chairs. Then, one of the attackers attacks the white-haired man, shooting him at point blank range. Thereafter, they aimed in several directions, apparently without firing any more shots, and, after checking the exit, fled on foot.
The man, seriously injured and died in hospital, was identified as Tuncer Cihan, 52 years old and of Turkish nationality. Two of his relatives told local media that he was a “simple and good” person, “without enemies”, “not involved in politics” and that he suffered from a “mild intellectual disability”. He had started attending Sunday masses with his paternal uncle and the faithful saw him “from Sunday to Sunday”, when he attended mass then stayed for coffee, according to one of those present.
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The Minister of the Interior, Ali Yerlikaya, announced Sunday evening that the “two alleged perpetrators” of the Santa Maria attack had been arrested, without however giving more details on the progress of the investigation. In the afternoon it was reported that one person had been arrested in connection with the attack. Turkey’s president, Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, telephoned the priest in charge of the church and the Polish consul to convey his condolences and condemned the attack, in addition to promising a rapid resolution of the matter.
In the past, attacks on temples, clergy and members of Turkey’s small Christian community have occurred in Turkey, such as the murder of Father Andrea Santoro in 2006 and the beheading of three people linked to a missionary community in 2007 , cases whose ultimate motivations have not been completely elucidated.
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