Turkish authorities detain 51, including gunmen, after Istanbul church attack

Turkish authorities have detained 51, including two gunmen believed to be connected to the Islamic State, responsible for the fatal shooting at the Santa Maria Church in Istanbul’s Sarıyer district during Sunday mass, as confirmed by Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya.

Turkish police stand guard outside the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church after two masked gunmen were shooting during Sunday service, in Istanbul, Turkey Jan. 28, 2024. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya

Duvar English

Turkish authorities have captured two gunmen who shot one person dead on Sunday during a service at a church in Istanbul and who are believed to be tied to Islamic State, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said.

Yerlikaya had earlier said that the attack, which Ankara condemned, took place around 08.40 GMT at the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church in Istanbul's Sarıyer district, and that one Turkish citizen - who was targeted by the gunmen - was killed while attending the service.

Speaking to reporters later, Yerlikaya said authorities had carried out raids on more than 30 locations across Istanbul and detained 51 people until now. The suspects were captured in one of the last raids, he said.

"Both of the suspects are foreign nationals. One of them is from Tajikistan and the other is Russian, and we evaluated them to be with Islamic State," Yerlikaya said, adding they would be questioned about the attack.

Earlier, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Telegram, saying it was in response to a call by the group's leaders to target Jews and Christians.

CCTV footage from inside of the church, verified by Reuters, showed the masked gunmen entering the building and shooting the man who was walking in front of them. The CCTV footage shows the men leaving almost immediately afterwards.

People react during a deadly attack by two masked gunmen at the Italian Santa Maria Catholic Church in this screenshot taken from CCTV video obtained by REUTERS.

The attackers escaped from the church after they panicked when one of the guns jammed.

The vehicle used by the suspects in the incident was brought to Turkey from Poland a year ago and has never been on the road during this period. The person who brought the vehicle returned after staying in Turkey for two days.

While 23 of the suspects were handed over to the repatriation centers for deportation, 28 suspects are still in police custody. Statements of the suspects started to be taken.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called the church's priest to offer his condolences and support, his office said, publishing a video of the call.

Pope Francis conveyed his condolences over the attack after his weekly Angelus prayer.

"I express my closeness to the community of Saint Mary Draperis Church in Istanbul that suffered an armed attack during mass that caused one death," he said.

Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni said on X that Italy's foreign ministry was following updates on the "despicable act" and condemned it.

Islamic State has conducted numerous attacks across Turkey, including on a nightclub in Istanbul on Jan. 1, 2017, in which 39 people were killed.

Yerlikaya said Turkish authorities had detained 2,086 people suspected of ties to Islamic State during 1,046 operations since June 2023, and that 529 people had been arrested.