Police arrest suspect in priest's killing in Turkey

Ankara, Turkey - Turkish police arrested a 16-year-old student on Tuesday on suspicion he is the gunman who shot an Italian Catholic priest to death, officials said.

NTV television, citing police officials, reported that the suspect told interrogators he killed the Rev. Andrea Santoro to avenge the publication in European newspapers of provocative cartoons depicting Islam's most revered prophet as a terrorist.

Police would not immediately comment on the report.

Santoro, 60, was shot dead on Sunday while praying in his church along the Black Sea coast. Witnesses say the killer screamed ``Allahu Akbar,'' Arabic for ``God is great,'' before firing two bullets into Santoro's back as he kneeled to pray inside the Santa Maria Church in the port city of Trabzon.

Prosecutor Burhan Cobanoglu identified the suspect only by the initials O.A. and said he was captured while hiding at a relative's home in Trabzon, NTV reported.

The high school student was under interrogation at police headquarters, it said. He is expected to be brought to a court later in the day, the station added.

Police also seized a 9mm handgun during the raid, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency said. The gun would be sent to a laboratory for ballistic tests, it added.

The police on Monday distributed a computer-generated sketch of the suspect, a clean-shaven teenager, wearing a woolen hat.

The priest's body was flown back to Italy on a military plane from Istanbul Tuesday, authorities said. A funeral for Santoro was planned for later in the week at Rome's main basilica, St. John Lateran, Italian news reports said.

Santoro's work with prostitutes in the area also may have been a motive for the killer. The priest had also received threats for allegedly proselytizing, Trabzon's Governor said.

Monsignor Luigi Padovese, the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, who presided over the memorial service for Santoro on Monday, refused to speculate on the killer's motives.

``But unfortunately,'' he said, ``the event happened during these days. Maybe this person, because he was a fanatic, was incited by these reports on the news, and did this for revenge, did it against a Christian presence in Turkey.''