Saint Mary’s church in the Sariyer district of Istanbul. Photo: ABC

Attack in Catholic Church in Istanbul: More Details Come to Light

The other aspect that could also have moved the hand of these aggressors: is the reaction to the climate of Islamophobia that is being installed and fueled in the West.

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(ZENIT News / Estambul, 03.02.2024).-On January 28, one man died, shot by two men in Saint Mary’s church in the Sariyer district of Istanbul. The victim was a Muslim who went to Mass on Sundays, said his family members.

Monsignor Maximliano Palinuro, the Apostolic Vicar of Istanbul, said to AsiaNews that there is tension and fear in the Bosphorus, as a result of the attack during the Mass. It is regarded as a selective attack and “poses questions on the future of the Christian presence in Turkey. Lately an atmosphere of greater serenity was breathed, we only hope that this incident will remain isolated.”

The Islamic State claimed the attack. The two perpetrators were arrested. Their religious motivation seems clear: a terrorist act linked to Islamic fundamentalism,” said Monsignor Maximiliano Palinuro, as seen in “the videos and testimonies we have collected up to now.”

A day after the attack — in the Strait’s only Latin parish, built in 1864 and open for worship since 1866 –, details emerged on the origin of the attack. The two perpetrators of the attack are affiliated to the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility in a message on its Telegram channel.

Forty people were attending the Mass and the victim, Tuncer Cihan, was a 52-year-old man with a mental disability, who belonged to the Alevi  Muslim community. He had been going to the Catholic Mass  on Sundays over the last months, said his relatives to the Turkish media.

Monsignor Palinuro explained that “the investigations are following their course. However, I must point out that, since October, given the events of the war in Gaza, a growing atmosphere of hostility has been created against the West in general and, consequently, also against Christianity.” He also said that the terrorists “are usually unable or don’t want to  make distinctions between the West, Israel, Christianity and the Catholic Church. And it’s paradoxical that they have Christians as their objective, when the Christians themselves of Gaza as well as Muslims are victims of the Israeli troops’ attacks.”

Monsignor Paolo Bizzeti, Apostolic Vicar for Anatolia, expressed his grief for “the victim, a sympathizer who for some months was getting closer to the Church and was run down by accident, perhaps because he got in the way of the attackers who were individuals ready to hit, to kill.”

Monsignor Palinuro commented that “the other aspect that might also have moved the aggressors’ hand is a reaction to the Islamophobic atmosphere being installed and fuelled in the West,” which “continues being a great problem, because it exacerbates spirits and creates more enmity. The burnings of the Koran have a tremendous resonance here, but don’t get the necessary and due condemnation in the West.”

The Turkish Government estimates that 99% of the population identifies itself as Muslim, including the Alevies. According to data of 2022 of the U.S. State Department, there are 25,000 Roman Catholics in Turkey.

Çağin Cihan, nephew of the deceased, said: “He was my Uncle. He was a simple and innocent person — without a doubt, an innocent victim. He was retired and had a slight mental disability. Over the last two months he had been going to the [Catholic] church every Sunday.”

Sukru Genc, local Mayor of Istanbul’s Sariyer district said that “when the first shot rang out, all threw themselves on the floor. After the second explosion, the weapon jammed and they [the attackers] left. You don’t know what would have happened afterwards if the attack had continued.”


According to Associated Press, the Islamic State’s terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack in Istanbul in Asmaq, its means of communication. There are two suspects: one from Tajikistan and the other of Russian nationality, now arrested. Ali Yerlikaya, Turkish Minister of the Interior, described the two suspects as members of the Islamic State group.

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Rafael Llanes

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