Turkish gunman kills Russian ambassador
A lone gunman screaming “Allahu akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo!” fatally shot Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Monday, an assassination that leaders from both nations warned was designed to inflame already tense relations between their countries over the war in neighboring Syria.
The point-blank shooting, while Ambassador Andrei Karlov was giving a speech at a photo exhibit in Ankara, was captured in grisly detail on a video that spread quickly around the world, showing the clean-shaven young gunman in a suit and tie and brandishing a handgun as he stood shouting at terrified onlookers with his victim sprawled on floor beside him.
Authorities later identified the shooter as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty member of the city’s riot control force. The gunman wounded at least three others during the assault before he was killed in a 15-minute chaotic shootout with security forces at the gallery.
The attack, on the same day as a mass killing at a Christmas fair in downtown Berlin, sent shock waves through military and diplomatic circles from NATO to the United Nations and Washington.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled by this senseless act of terror,” while NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described it on Twitter as a “heinous act” with no justification. The Obama administration condemned it as an assault on diplomatic security around the globe, while Presidentelect Donald Trump pulled no punches in asserting that the Russian diplomat had been “assassinated by a radical Islamic terrorist.”
U.S. officials went on high alert in Ankara amid reports of a separate shooting incident near the U.S. Embassy in the Turkish capital on Monday night. But Secretary of State John F. Kerry said in a statement that U.S. officials were “ready to offer assistance to Russia and Turkey as they investigate [the] despicable attack” that killed the 62-year-old Russian ambassador.
While Russian officials joined Mr. Trump in describing the incident as a terrorist attack, Turkish authorities were still combing Monday night through the background of the assassin.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Altintas was an officer with Ankara’s riot police squad for more than two years, but he offered no motive for the attack.
In addition to shouting about Aleppo and screaming, “Allahu akbar” — the Arabic phrase for “God is great” — the assassin said in Arabic: “We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad.”
After an initial flurry of shots, the gunman approached Mr. Karlov as he lay on the ground and shot him at least one more time at close range, according to an Associated Press photographer who witnessed the assassination. The attacker also smashed several of the framed photos of Russia hung for the exhibition, as panicked people ran for cover, the news agency reported.
The Islamic State and al Qaeda were the two most obvious suspects for planning the shooting, but the battle of Aleppo mentioned by the killer involves rebels opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the shooter’s family home in the western province of Aydin was searched and his mother, father and sister were detained. Altintas’ house in Ankara was raided, and his roommate, also a police officer, was also taken into custody, the news agency reported.
The killing triggered fears of a further meltdown in relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia, which for years have disagreed over Syria’s civil war. Russian forces are backing the regime of Mr. Assad, a longtime ally whose removal has long been sought by Turkey.
Tension between Moscow and Ankara soared in November 2015 when Turkish military forces shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syria-Turkey border. Although the two powers have appeared to reconcile during recent months, the assassination occurred a day after Turkish demonstrators took to the streets to protest Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan moved quickly to ease tensions in separate statements.
Both said the attack was the work of an assassin bent on ruining the prospect of diplomatic cooperation between the nations — a cooperation that has grown gradually despite lingering acrimony over the fighter jet incident.
Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin appeared to put aside their differences over Syria during face-to-face meetings in August and October and even agreed to revive a “Turkish Stream” pipeline project that may eventually carry Russian natural gas to Western markets via Turkey.
Mr. Karlov joined the diplomatic service in 1976, AP reported. He served as Russia’s ambassador to North Korea from 2001 to 2006 and later worked as chief of the Foreign Ministry’s consular department. He had been Russia’s ambassador to Turkey since 2013.
In a video message circulated across Turkish television on Monday night, Mr. Erdogan said the killing of Russia’s ambassador in Ankara was “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,” the Turkish president said.
Mr. Putin made a similar statement on Russian television, asserting that the Karlov assassination was also an attempt to derail the prospects of a Moscow-Ankara agreement over a peace process for Syria.
The process has long struggled to get off the ground amid disagreements among Turkey, the U.S., Russia and several regional powers, including Iran.
Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reported that Mr. Karlov was killed a day before Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was slated to visit Moscow for talks on Syria with his Russian and Iranian counterparts. Turkish officials said the meeting would proceed as scheduled.
● This article is based in part on wire service reports.
ASSASSINATION: Mevlut Mert Altintas shouted, “Allahu akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo,” after mortally shooting Andrei Karlov, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, in Ankara on Monday.
Terrified onlookers at the Ankara art gallery crouched in a corner during a chaotic 15-minute shootout before security forces killed gunman Mevlut Mert Altintas.