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Russian investigators arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to help investigate the assassination of Moscow’s ambassador as the Turkish government pointed the finger of blame at exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who resides in the United States.
Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot nine times in the back on Monday by off-duty Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas at an art gallery during the opening of a show on Russian photography.
An unprecedented three-way meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran went ahead in Moscow Tuesday despite the assassination, with the diplomats expressing their support for a broader truce in Syria.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, meanwhile, pinned responsibility for the assassination on a group behind exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in the United States. Ankara has said his loyalists also orchestrated an attempted coup in July.
“Turkey and Russia know that behind the attack … there is FETO,” Cavusoglu said in a conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry, referring to Turkey’s acronym for Gulen’s organisation.
Following the failed coup Ankara requested Gulen’s extradition from the United States, but Washington has so far not complied.
Gulen had earlier issued a statement to condemn the assassination as a “terrorist act” that left him “shocked and deeply saddened”.
Six people have been detained over Karlov’s death, including the sister, mother, father and uncle of 22-year-old Altintas, Turkish media reported.
With Turkey already on high alert after a string of deadly attacks, an individual also fired outside the US embassy in Ankara overnight. The US mission said in a statement that no one was hurt and the individual was detained.
‘Waved through security’
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his secret service to boost security at home and abroad, and to step up cooperation with foreign intelligence services.
A Russian investigative team visited the scene of the attack at the Contemporary Arts Centre in central Ankara as part of a joint probe with Turkey on Tuesday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul that he and Putin agreed in a phone call after the murder that “our expanding areas of cooperation with Russia, particularly on Syria, will not be hampered by this attack”.
Dramatic footage of Monday’s assassination showed Karlov stumble and crash to the ground on his back as Altintas brandished his automatic pistol at terrified onlookers who cowered behind cocktail tables.
The lone gunman shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and “Don’t forget Aleppo,” vowing that those responsible for events in Syria would be held accountable.
Altintas did not go through the metal detector security check when he entered the exhibition and was warned by a security officer, according to the Cankaya municipality where the exhibition centre is located.
But after showing his police ID, he was allowed to proceed, it said.
The Hurriyet daily said Altintas, who had worked for Ankara’s anti-riot police for the last two and a half years, had stayed at a nearby hotel to prepare for the attack, shaving and putting on a smart suit.
He was killed by police after a 15-minute stand-off.
Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, known for his outspoken comments, became the first senior official to link the killing with Gulen’s group.
His suggestion was also repeated in the pro-government press, before being amplified in the Anadolu report quoting Cavusoglu.
US President-elect Donald Trump had on Monday condemned the envoy’s murder, calling the gunman a “radical Islamic terrorist”.
A Russian plane carrying the ambassador’s body landed in Moscow, where it was met by Cavusoglu and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday.
Turkey gave the murdered envoy a full honour guard on his departure from Ankara, as an Orthodox Russian priest, watched by Karlov’s widow, read the last rites and swung incense over the coffin.
Cavusoglu announced in Moscow that the street where the embassy is located would be named after the 62-year-old envoy, a career diplomat who had notably served as ambassador to North Korea.
Moscow and Ankara are currently working closely together after striking a deal on evacuating citizens from the Syrian city of Aleppo.
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.