Russian ambassador to Ankara killed in gun attack

Andrei Karlov

Andrei Karlov

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead at the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara on Monday by an off-duty policeman who shouted “don’t forget Aleppo” as he pulled the trigger.

The attack happened at the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located, including the Russian mission.

Karlov was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored event when the shooting began.

Dramatic footage showed the gunman – dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie – standing behind the ambassador as he is speaking and then swaggering around the exhibition waving his gun and pointing aggressively into the air.

The man shouts “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and then talks in Arabic about pledging allegiance to jihad, the footage shows.

He then switches to Turkish, shouting: “Don’t forget about Syria, don’t forget about Aleppo. All those who participate in this tyranny will be held accountable,” before shooting.

“He was standing close to the ambassador when he suddenly shouted out, in Turkish, ‘We are dying in Syria, you will die here’ … he fired one shot into the ceiling, and then he sprayed everybody with bullets. The ambassador was shot in the back,” FRANCE 24’s Ankara correspondent, Jasper Mortimer said.

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed Karlov had died in the attack.

“Today in Ankara as a result of an attack, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey, Andrey Gennadyevich Karlov, received a wound from which he died,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters.

Several other people were wounded in the attack while the suspect was neutralised by security forces, said Mortimer.

Pictures published by the Hurriyet daily showed at least two men in suits lying on the ground as the assailant brandished a gun.

Turkey and Russia condemn ‘provocation’

The gunman was identified by the Turkish interior minister as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had worked in the Ankara anti-riot police for the last two-and-a-half years.

It was not known if he was on duty in the exhibition hall at the time and if not, how he managed to gain access carrying a weapon.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of the attack. Soon after, both men said the attack was aimed at compromising bilateral ties after a year of tensions.

Speaking in televised remarks during a meeting with senior officials, Putin said that the killing was a “provocation aimed at derailing Russia-Turkey ties and the peace process in Syria”.

“There can only be one response – stepping up the fight against terrorism. The bandits will feel this happening,” said a stern-faced Putin.

Erdogan, in a video message shown on several Turkish TV channels, said “this is a provocation to damage the normalisation process of Turkish-Russian relations”.

“But both the Russian and Turkish administrations have the determination not to fall for this provocation,” he added.

Moscow and Ankara are currently working closely together after striking a deal on evacuating citizens from the Syrian city of Aleppo. The foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are due to meet in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

Turkey and Russia saw relations plunge to their worst levels since the Cold War last year when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian war plane over Syria. But a reconciliation deal was signed earlier this year, and despite being on opposing sides in the Syria conflict – with Ankara backing the rebels trying to topple Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad – relations have recently been on the mend.

Turkey points finger at Gulen

It is not yet clear whether the assassin was acting alone and no group has claimed responsibility.

Nevertheless, a senior security official said there were “very strong signs” the gunman belonged to the network of the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated the failed coup in July.

Erdogan has denounced Gulen as a terrorist, but the cleric, a former ally, denies the accusation.

Gulen described the killing as a “heinous act of terror” that pointed to a deterioration of security in Turkey resulting from Erdogan’s wide ranging purge of police as well as the army, judiciary and media following the coup bid.

The government says Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999, created a “parallel network” in the police, military, judiciary and civil service aimed at overthrowing the state.

Suspicion could also fall on a group such as the Islamic State, which has carried out a string of bomb attacks in Turkey in the last year as Ankara has pressed a military campaign against the militants in Syria. The group has urged “lone” attacks in the West.

The United States was quick to respond with condolences for Karlov’s death. “We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”

French President François Hollande also “strongly” condemned the assassination.

US President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, labelled the gunman a “radical Islamic terrorist” in a rare formal statement.

“Today we offer our condolences to the family and loved ones of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, who was assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist,” said Trump, who usually takes to Twitter to issue reactions.

“The murder of an ambassador is a violation of all rules of civilized order and must be universally condemned.”

Karlov, 62, joined the diplomatic service in 1976. He served as Russia’s ambassador to Pyongyang from 2001 to 2006 and later worked as the chief of the foreign ministry’s consular department. He had served as the ambassador to Turkey since 2013.