Libyan gunman injures two in Topkapı Palace shooting

The assailant who wounded two when he opened fire with a pump-action rifle is seen in front of Topkapı Palace. (Photo: Cihan)

November 30, 2011, Wednesday/ 10:19:00

An assailant who opened fire with a pump-action rifle in a tourist district of İstanbul and wounded two people was killed in a clash with police. Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said the gunman was a Libyan national. The incident occurred in the Sultanahmet district of the city.

A soldier and a security guard working for a private company were injured. A witness said the assailant, whom he described as an Arab man, walked into Topkapı Palace and closed the doors at the entrance to the palace complex after shooting the soldier in the leg and the guard in the abdomen. The assailant clashed with police for more than an hour inside the Ottoman-era palace, one of İstanbul's major tourist attractions. The shooting first began at around 10:00 a.m. (7:00 GMT), almost an hour after visitors were admitted into the palace complex.

It was not immediately possible to verify the motives of the assailant. Witnesses said he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) and then said in Arabic that he was from Syria, raising suspicions that the incident was linked to political tensions between Turkey and Syria over President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on anti-regime protests.

Şahin, on the other hand, said the gunman was a Libyan national born in 1975. He said the assailant, identified as Samir Salem Ali Elmadhavri, had entered Turkey on Nov. 27 and arrived at the scene of the incident in a car with a Syrian license plate. Asked about the motive of the attack, Şahin said, “An attack’s motive is to inflict harm.” Şahin said it was not immediately known if the attacker was affiliated with any groups or organizations in Libya or Syria.

A spokesman for Libya’s National Transition Council, Jalal el-Galal, said authorities in Tripoli have no information at this point on the gunman, the Associated Press reported.

İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu had earlier said his motives appeared to be “personal.”

“We will make a statement when the situation is clear,” Mutlu told reporters, adding that the police decided to shoot him when the gunman appeared determined not to surrender.

Topkapı Palace, the seat of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years, is located in the city’s historic Sultanahmet neighborhood, which also includes the Blue Mosque and the former Byzantine church of Haghia Sophia. The palace, with its harem, ornate courtyards and gilded treasures, attracts thousands of visitors each year.

“I saw the gunman carrying a gun on his shoulder, like a hunter; he had ammunition around his neck and a backpack. His overcoat was buttoned, I couldn’t see what was underneath,” İdris Cengiz, an eyewitness, told AP television. “He was coming toward us and my friend said he looked like a hunter so I asked him in English, ‘Are you a hunter?’ He said something in Arabic that I didn’t understand.”

A picture showed him carrying at least two rifles and a cartridge belt around his neck. The picture also shows the man wearing a black overcoat, cap and carrying a backpack.

Some tourists threw themselves on the ground in panic, Cengiz said. There were no other reports of injuries in the attack.

Turkey has harshly criticized Assad’s violent crackdown on protests and announced on Wednesday a set of sanctions targeting the Syrian regime. Protesting Turkish policies, angry pro-Assad demonstrators attacked Turkish diplomatic missions earlier this month and burned a Turkish flag. Ankara has also backed a NATO operation against Libya’s deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi after initially opposing the idea.