Man slain at Catholic church in Turkey was Muslim, official says

By Edward Ross |
Memorial site after 2022 terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey.
Memorial site after 2022 terrorist attack in Istanbul, Turkey. | (Kurmanbek, Creative Commons)

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a shooting at a Catholic Church service in Istanbul, Turkey on Sunday (Jan. 28) that killed a Muslim citizen, news agencies reported.

Authorities in Turkey have detained the two gunmen, both foreigners, who targeted a Turkish Muslim attending the service at the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church in Istanbul’s Sariyer District, according to Reuters, citing Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya.

The suspects, one from Tajikstan and the other Russian, were affiliated with the Islamic State, Yerlikaya told reporters. He said they were captured in raids on 30 locations in Istanbul in which 47 people were detained.

The mayor of Sariyer District, Sukru Genc, told local newspaper BirGün that the slain man was a Muslim from the Turkish city of Bayburt who was near the entrance to the church building when the gunmen opened fire, according to CNN. It stated that Yerlikaya identified the victim as Tuncer Murat Cihan.

“According to the priest, he was constantly going to church, and the priest knew this person and referred to him as ‘a good person,’” Genc told local BirGün, according to CNN.

Church lawyer Avsin Hatipoglu told AP that the victim, Cihan, was an Alevi. Alevism is a sect of Shia Islam; ISIS and most of the population of Turkey are Sunni Muslims.

Reuters reported that CCTV footage from inside of the church building showed the gunmen wearing masks enter the building and shoot a man walking in front of them.

Islamic State’s claim of responsibility, published on its media arm, Aamaq, asserted that one person had been wounded in addition to the one killed, but Turkish authorities said no one was injured except the slain man, according to The AP.

“We will never tolerate those who try to disrupt the peace of our country — terrorists, their collaborators, both national and international criminal groups, and those who aim at our unity and solidarity,” Yerlikaya said, according to AP.

ISIS had reportedly never targeted places of worship in Turkey previously, though its militants killed 39 people in an Istanbul night club in 2017 and 109 people in a 2015 bombing in Ankara, among other attacks.

Since June, Turkish authorities have detained 2,086 people suspected of ties to Islamic State during 1,046 operations, with 529 of them arrested, Yerlikaya reportedly said.

Reuters reported that President Tayyip Erdogan conveyed condolences and support to the church’s priest, and Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni on X condemned the shooting as a “despicable act.”