Roman Catholic church pastor in İstanbul seeks police protection after attack

Turkish anti-riot police officers block the street of Santa Maria church after an attack in İstanbul, on January 28, 2024. Two assailants launched an armed attack on an Italian church in Istanbul during a religious ceremony on January 28, 2024, leaving one person dead, Turkey's interior minister said. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP)

The pastor of a Roman Catholic church in İstanbul has filed criminal complaints against the alleged perpetrators of a deadly attack on the church last month and asked for police protection for himself and increased safety measures for the church, Turkish Minute reported, citing the private DHA news agency.

Santa Maria Church pastor Anton Bulai’s lawyer, Afşin Hatipoğlu, filed the complaints with the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on Friday.

The church, located in the Sarıyer district of İstanbul, was the scene of a deadly attack on January 28 when two masked assailants opened fire on the people attending a service. The attack claimed the life of a Turkish citizen, identified as 52-year-old Tuncer Cihan, who was not a member of the congregation, according to his family.

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was carried out in response to the group leader’s call to kill Jews and Christians everywhere.

Twenty-five suspects among dozens who were detained following the attack have been arrested, while nine of them have been released under judicial supervision.

In his petition Bulai said the church is visited by thousands of people from different faiths every week, not only by Christians or Jews, which ISIL wants to kill, and that these people’s lives are at risk due to the increased level of threat against the church, given that the church attack found extensive coverage in the national and international media.

Due to a “serious and imminent threat” against Bulai, his lawyer asked for police protection for him while calling on law enforcement to take the necessary measures to maintain the safety of the church.

According to the petition, the attackers aimed to kill all the people in the church by randomly shooting at them.

The Turkish media reported that the attackers fled the scene when the gun used by one of them jammed.

The pastor in his petition wanted the punishment of the assailants and all the people connected to the attack, saying they committed the crime of disrupting the unity and integrity of the state and murder.

In an interview with Vatican Media, apostolic vicar of İstanbul and apostolic administrator of Constantinople Bishop Massimiliano Palinuro asked the Turkish authorities to “seek the truth” behind the attack, which he said seems to suggest religious intolerance.

The concrete motivations, the apostolic vicar told Vatican Media, “are not yet known” and “have yet to be verified.”

“But the elements that seem to emerge so far suggest a religiously motivated attack, a motivation of religious intolerance.”

Palinuro asked the Turkish authorities for more security for the Catholic Church.

“We ask for greater security and for the safety of the faithful, of the Christian community, which perseveres in the faith and courageously faces very long journeys at times to attend the Eucharistic celebration,” he 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 US State Department.

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