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Report: Suspect In Staten Island Woman’s Death Charged With Murder

Turkish state media said this man, identified as Ziya Tasali, has been charged with Sarai Sierra's murder. (credit: CBS 2)

Turkish state media said this man, identified as Ziya Tasali, has been charged with Sarai Sierra’s murder. (credit: CBS 2)

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ANKARA, Turkey (CBSNewYork/AP) – A man suspected of killing a New York City woman in Istanbul has been charged with murder and ordered to remain in custody until his trial, the state-run news agency reported.

Istanbul’s police chief said a man suspected of killing a Staten Island woman in Istanbul was actually caught in Syria in a joint operation by Syrian rebels and Turkish officials.

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.

There were conflicting reports about his arrest, with Turkey’s interior minister saying Tasali 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.

Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu said the suspect has confessed to killing Sarai Sierra, whose body was found in Istanbul on Feb. 2, nearly two weeks after she was reported missing during a solo vacation. Authorities said she died of a blow to the head.

A video reportedly recorded in Syria and posted on Hurriyet newspaper’s website shows the purported suspect saying he was under the influence of paint thinner during the incident.

Turkish news reports have described him as a homeless scrap paper collector.

Reports said police identified Tasali as the main suspect in the case after DNA samples taken from his two brothers and a sister matched those found beneath Sierra’s nails. Police would not confirm these reports, saying the investigation is ongoing.

Back on Staten Island, family friend Marjorie Ryan said Sierra’s parents, husband and two children were “very relieved that they finally found the person.”

She said all the family members are trying to stay strong as the investigation develops.

“I know Steve (Sierra),” Ryan said. “He’s taking care of those kids and he’s making sure they’re in good shape.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)