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ISIL member deported from Turkey in 2023 sought in relation to İstanbul church attack

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A member of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who was deported from Turkey to Dubai last year but re-entered the country is being sought by Turkish authorities for his involvement in a deadly attack on a Catholic church in İstanbul in January, the Halk TV news website reported.

ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack on the Santa Maria Church in Sarıyer in which 52-year-old Turkish citizen Tuncer Cihan, who was not a member of the congregation, was killed.

In July 2023, 12 members of ISIL’s Afghan branch, the Islamic State–Khorasan Province (ISIS-K), who were discovered to be running an illegal madrasa, or religious school, in İstanbul’s Başakşehir district, were detained in a police operation.

Tajik national Solekh Umarov, 29, who was identified in documents seized during the operation as having made preparations for the ISIL attack, was not apprehended at the time.

Umarov was later detained by police the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa.

During his interrogation Umarov said he first came to Turkey from Russia in September 2017, that he was arrested in İstanbul in December 2021 and that he was released after a year in a repatriation center in Edirne in northwestern Turkey.

After his interrogation, Umarov was deported on October 6 to Dubai. Umarov then traveled to Ukraine, contacted ISIL members there and returned to İstanbul once again, according to an official notice from the İstanbul Governor’s Office in April.

It is not known how the suspected ISIL member was able to return to Turkey after he was deported and then became involved in preparations for the attack on the Catholic church.

According to Halk TV, the İstanbul 9th High Criminal Court issued a warrant for Umarov’s detention in late April in connection with the attack on the Santa Maria Church.

Following the attack, numerous ISIL suspects were arrested across the country. In February Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced the arrest of two men alleged to be ISIL members who carried out the attack on the church.

The men were A.K. from Tajikistan and D.T. from Russia.

The church 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.

Various bombings and attacks by ISIL have killed 315 people and injured hundreds in Turkey since the group was declared a terrorist organization in 2013.

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