A gunman has been shot dead at Istanbul’s historic palace, after wounding two. He was reported to be of Libyan origin and arrived at the scene with a Syrian registered car plate.
A gunman was shot dead by security forces in Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square yesterday after he neutralized a soldier on duty in front of the Topkapı Palace Museum and began firing at random, wounding two.
“The assailant is of Libyan origin and was born in 1975. He entered Turkey on Nov. 27,” Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin told reporters after the attack. He said the gunman, identified as Samir Salem Ali Elmadhavri, 36, arrived at the scene with a car bearing a Syrian license plate.
Elmadhavri came to Turkey through Syria. The National Intelligence Agency (MİT) is working with police on their investigation of the incident, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.
While the attack came at a time of high tension between Turkey and neighboring Syria over the anti-regime protests against Bashar al-Assad, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said, “I do not think this [attack] has anything to do with the events that recently took place in Syria.”
The assailant could be psychologically unstable, Arınç said, adding that the incident reminded him of the infamous gunman who shot 77 people dead in Norway four months ago.
The assailant first used his pump action rifle to threaten a soldier on guard duty in front of the Topkapı Palace Museum at around 10 a.m. He then managed to seize the soldier’s G3 standard issue army rifle and wounded him.
Elmadhavri then began randomly firing, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” according to eyewitnesses, while security forces quickly surrounded and evacuated the square. The assailant also turned down security forces’ requests for him to surrender, according to reports.
Soldier Şerafettin Eray Topçu, 23, and a security guard, Mehmet Ballıcı, 34, were wounded by the gunman who was finally captured dead after an ensuing firefight that lasted for about one and a half hours inside the Topkapı Palace. Topçu was wounded in his left leg and is currently in good shape, while Ballıcı had to undergo surgery, according to reports.
Witnesses said the gunman shouted in Arabic “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as he opened fire.
“He walked by me, past the fountain, toward the palace. I said: ‘are you a hunter?’ He said ‘Allahu Akbar’ and some things in Arabic I didn’t understand. Around 20 seconds later the sound of gunshots started,” one unidentified witness told the Doğan news agency.
“The assailant came over to the gate and first fired at the troop; then he fired at the security official. We turned and ran away when he directed his gun at us,” another eyewitness said.
The gunman arrived on the scene wearing a bandolier and concealed his weapon with a carton box. A tourist who was trapped inside the museum during the firefight was rescued later on.
Istanbul Gov. Hüseyin Avni Mutlu said the assailant’s motivation seemed to be entirely personal.
Meanwhile, authorities have also identified the hotel in Istanbul’s Talimhane district where Elmadhavri was staying with a friend. Police are looking for the assailant’s friend who remains at large.
Topkapı Palace, the seat of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years, is located in the city’s historic Sultanahmet district, which also includes the Blue Mosque and the former Byzantine church of Hagia Sophia. The palace, including ornate courtyards, gilded treasures and dozens of rooms that once housed harems, attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Al-Assad accused Turkey earlier this week of aiding the opposition, which Damascus describes as terrorist gangs, and of seeking to restore the Ottoman Empire. Syria was conquered by the Ottomans in 1516 and remained under their control until the empire’s disintegration.
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News