Gunman surrenders after taking hostages

Sunday, May 5, 2002

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- A gunman burst into a luxury Istanbul hotel Saturday, fired shots in the air and briefly took about 10 people hostage before surrendering to police. No hostages were harmed.

NTV television identified the gunman as a Turk, Mustafa Yildirim. It said he took the hostages to protest Russia's military action in the breakaway republic of Chechnya and Israel's offensive in the Palestinian territories.

The gunman had fought in Chechnya against the Russians but was not of Chechen ancestry, his brother, Isa Yildirim, told the Anatolia news agency.

The hostage drama -- which lasted 80 minutes -- began when the gunman entered the Marmara Hotel in central Istanbul and fired shots into the air from his Kalashnikov assault rifle. Bullet holes were visible in the windows.

The gunman took about 10 people hostage, Istanbul police chief Hasan Ozdemir said.

He ordered the hostages into the ballroom of the hotel, private CNN-Turk television reported.

Other guests ran in panic away from the hotel in the heart of Istanbul's busy Taksim Square -- a popular tourist area full of bars, movie theaters and restaurants.

Police surrounded the hotel and blocked off roads into the square, while guests in the 21-story building looked down from their windows at the commotion in the streets outside.

The gunman first freed some five hostages, keeping another five as captives, CNN-Turk reported.

After the first hostages were freed, anti-terror police wearing black ski masks and black bulletproof vests began moving into the hotel.

The gunman quickly surrendered after seeing the police, Anatolia reported.

NTV said hostages included Greek tourists -- many Greeks celebrate Orthodox Easter this weekend in Istanbul, where the Ecumenical Patriarchate is based.

However, the hotel manager said the hostages were mostly Turks, Bulgarians and Japanese and did not include Greeks.

NTV said the gunman was bearded and appeared to be in his mid-20s.

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