Ankara: An Italian Roman Catholic priest was shot dead in his church in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon on Sunday, triggering condemnation from Turkey government and pledges to track down the killer.
"The priest was shot dead at his church this afternoon but we have no more details at present. An investigation has begun," a police spokesman told Reuters.
Turkish media said police were looking for a young man aged about 17 years old seen fleeing from the church of Santa Maria.
The state Anatolian news agency identified the dead man as 60-year-old Andrea Santaro. Other Turkish media said he had been in Turkey about five years.
The gunman`s motive was unclear. Turkey is overwhelmingly Muslim and has only a tiny Christian population.
"We strongly condemn this treacherous attack," Turkey`s Foreign Ministry said in a statement which stressed the country`s long history of religious tolerance and coexistence.
"We hope this kind of deplorable event will not be repeated and that it will not damage the atmosphere of tolerance in our country," the statement said.
In a separate statement, Justice Minister Cemil Cicek vowed to find the gunman, adding that the shooting of a man of religion in a house of worship was "beyond comprehension."
Anatolian quoted Trabzon governor Huseyin Yavuzdemir as saying the priest had received threats for conducting "missionary activities" in Turkey.
Christian missionaries have in the past drawn criticism from some Turks, including government ministers, who are keen to preserve Turkey`s strong Muslim culture and identity.
Turkey, like many other Muslim countries, has seen protests in many cities and towns over the past week against cartoons published in several European newspapers depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
Turkish leaders have expressed strong distaste at the cartoons, but have also called for calm and better understanding between different cultures and religious faiths.
Turkey`s non-Muslim clergy, including Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual head of the world`s Orthodox Christians, have also condemned the cartoons, which were first published in a Danish newspaper.
Violent attacks on Christian clergy are virtually unheard of in Turkey, which takes pride in its history as a bridge between mainly Christian Europe and the predominantly Muslim Middle East, and which also gave shelter to Jews over many centuries. (Reuter)