Turkey opens inquiry into visits by New Zealand mosque killer

Turkey opens inquiry into visits by New Zealand mosque killer

ISTANBUL- Agence France-Presse
Turkey opens inquiry into visits by New Zealand mosque killer

Ankara on March 15 opened an inquiry after it emerged that the man alleged to be the New Zealand mosque gunman made several visits to Turkey, an official said.

A visitor believed to be the 28-year-old Australian- who has been arrested and charged with murder in New Zealand -"visited Turkey several times and stayed for a long period in the country," the Turkish official said.

"We think that the suspect could have been to other countries from Turkey in Europe, Asia and Africa. We are investigating the suspect's movements and contacts in the countries," added the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkish media reported that a manifesto published online allegedly by the gunman contained specific references to Turkey and ridding the famed Hagia Sophia in Istanbul of its minarets. Now a museum, the building was once a church before being turned into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire.

State broadcaster TRT says the suspect visited Turkey twice in 2016 - on March 17-20 and Sept. 13 to Oct. 25. The station has released a security camera image of him arriving at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport.

Addressing a rally in northwestern Tekirdağ province, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan blasted the gunman.

“He came to Istanbul for three days once and 40 days for the second time. What are his connections? We will find out. He talked nonsense by saying 'we will come to Istanbul and destroy all the mosques and minarets.’ Where is New Zealand and where is Turkey?” he said.

 “How can a murderer on the other end of world act with such ill-will against Muslims and Turks,” Erdogan said, referring to the New Zealand attacker.     

Sofia earlier said it too was investigating after discovering that the gunman might have visited Bulgaria in November 2018.

A man believed to be him spent a week in the country supposedly to "visit historical sites and study the history of the Balkan country," Bulgaria's chief prosecutor Sotir Tsatsarov said.

He said the inquiry would establish if this was "correct or if he had other objectives".

The same man also made a short visit to the Balkans in December 2016, travelling by bus across Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.