Riot cop ex­e­cutes Rus­sian diplo­mat

Po­lice­man shouts “Don’t for­get Aleppo! Don’t for­get Syria!”

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Burhan Oz­bilici and Suzan Fraser

ankara, turkey» A Turk­ish po­lice­man fa­tally shot Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Turkey on Mon­day in front of a shocked gath­er­ing at a photo ex­hibit and, pac­ing near the body of his vic­tim, ap­peared to con­demn Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary role in Syria, shout­ing “Don’t for­get Aleppo! Don’t for­get Syria!”

The lead­ers of Turkey and Rus­sia said the attack in Ankara, the Turk­ish cap­i­tal, was an at­tempt to dis­rupt ef­forts to re­pair ties be­tween their coun­tries, which have backed op­pos­ing sides in the Syr­ian civil war.

An As­so­ci­ated Press pho­tog­ra­pher and oth­ers at the art gallery watched in hor­ror as the gun­man, who was wear­ing a dark suit and tie, fired at least eight shots, at one point walk­ing around Am­bas­sador An­drei Karlov as he lay mo­tion­less and shoot­ing him again at close range.

The as­sailant, who was iden­ti­fied as Mev­lut Mert Alt­in­tas, a 22year-old mem­ber of Ankara’s riot po­lice squad, was killed in a shootout with po­lice. Three other peo­ple were wounded in the attack, au­thor­i­ties said.

The as­sas­si­na­tion came af­ter days of protests by Turks an­gry over Rus­sia’s sup­port for Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad in the Syr­ian

con­flict and Rus­sia’s role in the bom­bard­ment and de­struc­tion of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

The gun­man shouted about Aleppo in Turk­ish and yelled “Al­lahu ak­bar,” the Ara­bic phrase for “God is great,” con­tin­u­ing in Ara­bic: “We are the de­scen­dants of those who sup­ported the Prophet Muham­mad, for ji­had.”

The attack, con­demned by the White House and the United Na­tions, was an­other sign of how Turkey, a NATO mem­ber and a part­ner in the U.S.-led cam­paign against the Is­lamic State, is strug­gling to con­tain mul­ti­ple se­cu­rity threats. The war in Syria has been a ma­jor prob­lem for years, send­ing sev­eral mil­lion refugees into Turkey and, more re­cently, draw­ing in Turk­ish troops.

Turkey has be­come ac­cus­tomed to deadly at­tacks — Kur­dish mil­i­tants claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for Dec. 10 bomb­ings in Is­tan­bul that killed 44 peo­ple, many of them po­lice.

The spec­ta­cle of 62-year-old Karlov’s as­sas­si­na­tion by a mem­ber of the Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces at a photography ex­hibit meant to high­light Rus­sian cul­ture re­in­forced the sense of un­ease over the re­gion’s con­flict and com­plex web of al­liances and re­la­tion­ships.

It came a day be­fore a key meet­ing about Syria to be held in Moscow. Those at­tend­ing in­clude the for­eign and de­fense min­is­ters from Turkey, an op­po­nent of As­sad, and Rus­sia and Iran, back­ers of the Syr­ian regime.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin de­scribed the killing of Karlov as an at­tempt to dam­age Rus­si­aTurkey ties “and to thwart a peace process in Syria that Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran have been ac­tively try­ing to pro­mote.”

Putin said he and Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan agreed in a phone call that Rus­sian in­ves­ti­ga­tors would fly to Ankara to con­duct a joint probe with their Turk­ish coun­ter­parts.

“We must know who was di­rect­ing the killer,” Putin said in tele­vised re­marks. He or­dered top of- fi­cials to strengthen pro­tec­tion of the Turk­ish Em­bassy in Moscow and asked Turkey to in­crease se­cu­rity at the Rus­sian mis­sion in Ankara.

In a video mes­sage shown on sev­eral Turk­ish TV chan­nels, Er­do­gan said: “This is a provo­ca­tion to dam­age the nor­mal­iza­tion process of Turk­ish-Rus­sian relations. But both the Rus­sian and Turk­ish ad­min­is­tra­tions have the de­ter­mi­na­tion not to fall for this provo­ca­tion.”

Karlov was sev­eral min­utes into a speech at the em­bassy-spon­sored ex­hi­bi­tion in Ankara when he was gunned down.

Alt­in­tas, the gun­man, also fired shots in the air, send­ing pan­icked au­di­ence mem­bers run­ning for cover, and smashed sev­eral of the framed photos hung for the ex­hi­bi­tion. The floor was splat­tered with blood, and the am­bas­sador’s eye­glasses lay a few feet from his body.

Af­ter shoot­ing the am­bas­sador, the gun­man got into a 15-minute shootout with po­lice be­fore he was killed, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency re­ported.

The shooter’s fam­ily home in the western prov­ince of Ay­din was later searched and his mother, fa­ther and sis­ter were de­tained, the news agency said, with­out cit­ing sources. The man’s house in Ankara was raided, and his room­mate, also a po­lice of­fi­cer, was also taken into cus­tody, it said.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Su­ley­man Soylu said Alt­in­tas, who was born in 1994, had been an of­fi­cer with Ankara’s riot po­lice squad for more than two years. He did not give a mo­tive for the attack.

“It’s a tragic day in the his­tory of our coun­try and Rus­sian diplo­macy,” Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova said.

“Am­bas­sador Karlov has made a lot of per­sonal con­tri­bu­tions to the de­vel­op­ment of ties with Turkey. He has done a lot to over­come a cri­sis in bi­lat­eral relations,” she said. “He was a man who put his heart and his soul into his job. It’s a ter­ri­ble loss for us and also the world.”

Karlov joined the diplo­matic ser­vice in 1976. He served as Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to Py­ongyang from 2001-06 and worked as the chief of the For­eign Min­istry’s con­sular de­part­ment. He had served as the am­bas­sador to Turkey since 2013.

The White House con­demned the as­sas­si­na­tion, say­ing “this heinous attack on a mem­ber of the diplo­matic corps is un­ac­cept­able.” Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was briefed by his na­tional se­cu­rity team while on va­ca­tion in Hawaii

U.N. Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon also con­demned what he called a “sense­less act of ter­ror,” for which “there can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

Relations be­tween Rus­sia and Turkey were badly strained by the down­ing of a Rus­sian war­plane at the Syr­ian bor­der in Novem­ber 2015, but Turkey’s apol­ogy this year helped over­come the rift. Putin and Er­do­gan have held sev­eral meet­ings in re­cent months and have spo­ken fre­quently on the phone.

Rus­sia and Turkey have cospon­sored the evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians and rebels from Aleppo and dis­cussed the prospect of or­ga­niz­ing a new round of peace talks in Kaza­khstan’s cap­i­tal, As­tana.

Se­cu­rity threats to Turkey in­clude the Is­lamic State, which has been blamed for at­tacks in Turkey. Ad­di­tion­ally, Turk­ish se­cu­rity forces and courts re­main pre­oc­cu­pied with purg­ing state in­sti­tu­tions of the sup­port­ers of an ex­iled Is­lamist cleric.

Mev­lut Mert Alt­in­tas, a 22-year-old mem­ber of Ankara’s riot po­lice, ges­tures af­ter shoot­ing An­drei Karlov, the Rus­sian am­bas­sador to Turkey, on Mon­day at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey. Three other peo­ple were wounded in the attack. Alt­in­tas was later killed in a shootout with po­lice.

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