Turk­ish gun­man kills Rus­sian am­bas­sador

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY GUY TAY­LOR

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.

Rus­sia-Turkey ten­sions

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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