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Islamic State claims responsibility for attack on Catholic church in Istanbul

Turkish police stand guard outside the scene of an armed attack at a Catholic church in Istanbul, Turkey, on Jan. 28, 2024. / Credit: Rudolf Gehrig/EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Jan 29, 2024 / 07:27 am (CNA).

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul during Sunday Mass that left one man dead.

Two suspects described as members of the Islamic State group have been arrested following the shooting on Jan. 28 at Santa Maria Church in Istanbul’s Sariyer district.

Turkish Minister of the Interior Ali Yerlikaya announced late on Sunday night that police had conducted raids on 30 locations across Istanbul following the attack during which the arrests were made.

“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 the Islamic State,” Yerlikaya said, according to Reuters.

The minister also identified the victim of the attack as 52-year-old Turkish national Tuncer Cihan in a post on the social media platform X.

The Turkish bishops’ conference has asked for prayers for the victim and his family in a statement released on Jan. 28.

“We firmly condemn this act of violence against humanity,” said the statement signed by Archbishop Martin Kmetec of Izmir.

“We trust that the Turkish state security forces will find those responsible and that justice will be done,” he said. “We firmly demand that the truth be revealed and that greater security be guaranteed to our communities and churches.”

The Turkish bishops also urged people “not to spread the culture of hatred and religious discrimination.”

The attack took place at 11:40 a.m. local time as Mass was being offered in the church. Video footage of the attack obtained by EWTN News showed two masked assailants dressed in black following a man with white hair into the church and shooting him in the back of the head as parishioners hid under the pews.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Istanbul attack on its official media outlet, Aamaq, according to the Associated Press.

Hours after the attack, Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro, the apostolic vicar of Istanbul, told EWTN News that the man was killed “during the consecration while all the congregation was praying.”

“We are worried about the future because if this is a sign of the religious intolerance, for our community it could be a bad sign. Let us pray,” Palinuro said.

There are about 25,000 Roman Catholics living in Turkey, including migrants from Africa and the Philippines, according to a 2022 report by the U.S. State Department.

Earlier this month, Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency reported that 25 suspected Islamic State members were arrested in Turkey on Jan. 3 under accusation that they were plotting attacks on churches and synagogues.

In response to the news of the arrest of two suspects affiliated with the Islamic State, Palinuro told EWTN News on Jan. 29, “We trust in the justice of God.”

EWTN journalists Rudolf Gehrig and Colm Flynn contributed to this report from Istanbul, Turkey.

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