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Turkey: One dead following 'targeted assassination' in Istanbul Catholic church

Government says 'necessary steps' being taken to find perpetrators after gunmen open fire inside Santa Maria church
Turkish anti-riot police officers block the street of Santa Maria church after an attack in Istanbul, on 28 January 2024 (Ozan Kose/AFP)

One man has been left dead after gunmen opened fire inside a Catholic church in Istanbul during a Sunday mass.

Turkey's government said that "necessary steps" were being taken to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack in the Santa Maria church in the Sariyer district of Istanbul.

Turkish officials said it seems like a targeted assassination rather than a general attack on the church.

Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said an individual identified only as "C.T." was the target, and was killed, with the attackers fleeing the scene shortly after.

"We strongly condemn this vile attack," Yerlikaya said on social media.

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An investigation has been launched to find the attackers, who fled the scene after the shooting, Yerlikaya added.

Officials said that around 40 people had attended the mass. Security footage prior to the assault showed a pair of men wearing black snow masks with their hands in their pockets, with one wearing black sunglasses.

'Necessary steps'

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who met with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Istanbul last week, expressed condolences during a phone call with the priest of the Italian church and other local officials.

His office said that Erdogan promised that the "necessary steps are being taken to catch the perpetrators as soon as possible".

Pope Francis also offered his support for the church.

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"I express my closeness to the community of the Santa Maria church in Istanbul," he said at the end of his weekly prayer in St Peter's Square at the Vatican.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far.

A number of armed groups have operated in Turkey over the decades, including Islamists, leftists and ultranationalists.

Last December, Turkish security forces detained 32 suspects over alleged links with the Islamic State group, who they said were planning attacks on churches and synagogues.

In 1981, a suspected Turkish ultranationalist shot Pope John Paul II in the middle of Vatican square.

The Pope survived the attempt and the attacker Mehmet Ali Agca was apprehended and sentenced to life in prison. He was pardoned in 2000 at the Pope's request and later converted to Roman Catholicism.

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