The suspected murderer of American tourist Sarai Sierra, caught on Sunday by security forces in the southern province of Hatay, has confessed to the killing in a video posted on a Turkish news website. “I don't remember how it happened,” the suspect, a paper trash collector officially identified only by the initials Z.T., said in a video posted on TimeTürk's website, adding that he had been sniffing paint thinner “excessively” as a way to get high that day. “I must have hit her head with a heavy object. When I came back in the morning, she was dead and I covered her,” he said. Z.T., also known as Laz Ziya, further recounted that Sierra came to the area where he had been sniffing paint thinner. “It was around 1:00 a.m. when she came there. I even didn't think that she was an American or a tourist. I thought she was a Turkish woman. It was only after I saw newspapers reporting the disappearance of an American woman that I understood the missing woman was the one that I killed."
He further stated in the video that that he walked around the area for nine days before fleeing İstanbul. “On the 10th day, when the police found this dead body, I had to escape into Syria,” he said. “And now I am captured.”
Hatay Governor Celalettin Lekesiz announced on Sunday that Z.T. had been captured by security forces at around noon in Hatay.
Hatay Police Chief Ragıp Kılıç said that his teams had been working extensively and meticulously to find the prime suspect. The borders of the province, which neighbors Syria, were being strictly controlled by the police and Syrian opposition forces had also been notified of the search, he noted.
Media reports said the suspect was initially captured by Syrian opposition fighters in Idlib province in Syria, then handed over to Turkish forces at a border crossing in Hatay.
Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Güler has confirmed that Turkish officials knew the man was in Syria.
After his capture, Z.T. was taken to the Hatay Police Department for an initial interrogation and received a medical exam at Antakya State Hospital. He was brought to İstanbul by plane early on Monday morning.
Sierra, a 33-year-old mother of two boys, was murdered while on a solo vacation to Turkey. She last contacted her family on the morning of Jan. 21, the day before she was supposed to begin her journey back to New York. She never showed up for her flight out of İstanbul.
Twelve days after her disappearance, police found her body behind the ancient city walls in the low-income neighborhood of Cankurtaran. She had reportedly been bludgeoned to death.
The police, who launched a thorough investigation to find the murderer or murderers of the US tourist, found tissue samples under Sierra's nails during the autopsy and came to believe the DNA extracted from the tissue would prove to belong to Z.T. The suspect's family home in the province of Karabük was raided and police collected a DNA sample from Z.T.'s brother, since the suspect had already disappeared. The sample was a close familial match to DNA samples found during the autopsy, confirming Z.T. as the prime suspect in the case.
Police suspect that Z.T. might have first taken Sierra's personal belongings and then attempted to rape her, but decided to kill the woman after she resisted.