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Sarai Sierra Murder Suspect Arrested In Syria And Allegedly Confesses To Killing New York Mom

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A homeless man accused of murdering Sarai Sierra, a New Yorker vacationing in Istanbul, was arrested in Syria.
A homeless man accused of murdering Sarai Sierra, a New Yorker vacationing in Istanbul, was arrested in Syria.

ANKARA, Turkey — A man suspected of killing a New York City woman in Istanbul was charged on Monday with murder and ordered to remain in custody until his trial, the state-run news agency reported.

Sarai Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of three, was found dead near Istanbul's ancient city walls on Feb. 2, 12 days after her family reported her missing. She was vacationing alone in the city and exploring her photography hobby. She had planned to travel to Turkey with a friend, but that person canceled for financial reasons.

Authorities said Sierra died of a blow to the head.

The suspect, identified as 46-year-old Ziya Tasali, was caught Sunday near the Turkey-Syria border after being on the run for more than a month, mostly while hiding in Syria, officials said.

Sierra's brother, David Jimenez, welcomed the charge filed against Tasali. "It's what we were hoping for. They've done a good job investigating this, and we really appreciate it," Jimenez said in an interview with The Associated Press in New York City.

There were conflicting reports about Tasali's arrest, with Turkey's interior minister saying he was detained as he entered Turkey, and the Istanbul police chief suggesting he was nabbed in Syria in an operation by Syrian rebels in cooperation with Turkish officials.

The suspect was taken to Istanbul, where a court questioned him and charged him on Monday with murder, according to the state-run Anadolu agency. A trial date will be set after prosecutors prepare an indictment detailing the charges.

The maximum penalty for murder in Turkey is life imprisonment.

Anadolu reported that Tasali – described as a homeless scrap paper collector – allegedly admitted while being questioned by prosecutors that he attacked Sierra while under the influence of vapors from inhaling paint thinner, then fled the scene.

Sierra disappeared the day she was due to fly home, and her body was found hidden near the remnants of the city walls.

Istanbul police identified Tasali as a prime suspect in the slaying after blood and DNA samples extracted from the victim's nails closely matched those taken from his siblings.

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Associated Press correspondent Verena Dobnik contributed from New York City.

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