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LOCAL > NY mom’s body on way to US as FBI finds killing 'suspicious'

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

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People carry the coffin of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, at Beyoglu in Istanbul on February 6, 2013. AFP Phoot

People carry the coffin of US tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, at Beyoglu in Istanbul on February 6, 2013. AFP Phoot

The body of Sarai Sierra, a mother of two who was killed in Turkey while on a solo vacation, is being returned to the United States today, but questions behind her mysterious murder remain.

Speculation has increased after Turkish dailies picked up on a story by the New York Post, which cited an FBI officer as saying there were suspicions the woman was engaged in illegal activity.

“Sierra’s visit in Istanbul was not to take photos. There is a possibility of her being a drug courier,” the anonymous agent was quoted as saying. In response to the story, daily Sabah used the headline “Sierra murder not ordinary” for today’s edition.

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Istanbul Public Security Branch Office Deputy Manager Yener Ülgütol also refuted such claims, saying they did not reflect the truth.

“We have no such information,” Ülgütol said yesterday on the phone, adding that no FBI agent had confirmed the information.

Similarly, the family of Sierra rejects the accusations that she was a drug courier, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, a carpet seller and the owner of a boarding house are being sought by police in connection with the Sierra case, daily Habertürk reported based on anonymous police sources.

Turkish authorities concluded that Sierra, 33, had been in regular contact with her family on Staten Island during her three-week trip, which included a preplanned excursion to Amsterdam and a stop in Munich before she returned to Istanbul.

The woman disappeared Jan. 21, and her body was found 12 days later near the remnants of the city’s ancient walls. She was still wearing her jewelry, but her Android phone and iPad were missing. Authorities reported that she had suffered blunt blow to the head.

‘Taylan’ revealed to be man named Tarkan

Meanwhile, police officials have closed off the area where her body was found in Sarayburnu beneath Istanbul’s city walls, according to daily Hürriyet.

The ditch where Sierra’s body was discovered by police officers was covered, and homeless people living around the site were removed from the area. The site was then closed off.

Investigations also revealed that Sierra’s last contact in Istanbul, whose online handle was “Taylan,” was a Turkish man named Tarkan.

Tarkan claimed that he had met Sierra through the photo-sharing website Instagram and that they had met at a bar in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district. Tarkan’s testimony further said he had sex with Sierra in the same bar.

Tarkan's account was questioned by Sierra's best friend, Magdalena Rodriguez, who told FoxNews.com she doesn't believe the man's claim.  

"We know Sarai. We know she didn't run off with anybody. She would have told me. She would have said something," Rodriguez was quoted as saying.

Tarkan's lawyer, Özkan Polat, also insisted that there was no kind of romantic or any other sort of relationship between the two. Polat also told the press today that Tarkan was a well-respected and successful person in society, denying claims linking him with drug dealing gangs. 

“He is a person with a social circle and a family. He graduated from university and studied his masters abroad. He has work and is well respected in his social circle. He is not married and is very sorry that things ended up at this point,” said Polat.

He reiterated that Tarkan had only met Sierra on an online photograph sharing platform three or four months ago, adding that he had not invited the American woman to Turkey.

More than 20 people have testified in the case, and over 22 DNA samples have been collected so far.

Turkish Airlines is repatriating her remains free of charge, and a funeral house on Staten Island has offered free services, but the owner said it was unclear whether the family would accept the offer.

Sierra's funeral is due to be held Feb. 15 at the Pentecostal Church in Staten Island, New York, where she met and married her husband, Steven.


February/07/2013

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