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Turkish authorities release photo of suspects detained over deadly church attack

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Turkish authorities have released photographs of two suspects allegedly responsible for an attack during Sunday Mass at the Santa Maria Church in İstanbul that resulted in the death of one person, Turkish media reported on Wednesday.

In the attack on the Santa Maria Church on Sunday, masked assailants opened fire during the service and killed 52-year-old Tuncer Murat Cihan. The İstanbul police have released pictures of the two suspects accused of carrying out the attack.

The authorities found the weapons used in the attack in a forest and a vehicle with Polish license plates believed to have been used by the perpetrators in İstanbul’s Beylikdüzü district.

The clothes worn by the attackers were discovered by the police in a garbage can in Sarıyer, where the church is located.

Further details have emerged suggesting that the vehicle used in the attack was brought to Turkey from Poland a year ago but had not been driven until the day of the shooting. It is noteworthy that the Polish consul general in İstanbul and his family were present in the church during the attack.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said the suspects are believed to be affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

“We have conducted 1,046 operations against ISIL since June 1, 2023, resulting in 2,086 detentions and 529 arrests,” Yerlikaya posted on X.

The alleged attackers, identified as A.K. from Tajikistan and D.T. from Russia, were among 51 people detained in connection to the attack. While 23 of these suspects are awaiting deportation at a repatriation center, the remaining 28 are still undergoing police interrogation.

The private DHA news agency reported that ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack, stating it targeted a “gathering of Christian unbelievers.” The claim was made through Aamaq, ISIL’s media arm, and included photos of the masked gunmen.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan conveyed his condolences in a phone call with Anton Bulai, pastor of the church, and assured him that all efforts were being made to apprehend the culprits. Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro of the Apostolic Vicariate of İstanbul called for increased security for the Catholic church in light of the attack.

Following the incident, an İstanbul court imposed a gag order on news coverage of the attack, a common practice in Turkey after such events. The order restricts reporting across all media platforms.

Pope Francis and Italy’s foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, both expressed their condolences and condemned the attack, which occurred shortly after a meeting between Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Erdoğan in İstanbul.

A funeral for Tuncer Cihan was held at an Alevi house of worship in İstanbul, attended by İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and various church and local officials. Cihan’s cousin clarified that he was not a member of the congregation and had visited the church out of curiosity.

This attack is part of a series of ISIL attacks in Turkey, including a 2017 nightclub massacre in İstanbul that left 39 people dead. ISIL said this latest attack was in response to their leader’s call to kill Jews and Christians.

In December of last year Turkish security forces detained 32 people over alleged ISIL links who were planning attacks on churches, synagogues and the Iraqi Embassy.

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