Russian investigators seek clues in diplomat’s assassination.
Investigator says gunman likely had help
ANKARA, TURKEY | Investigators from Turkey and Russia hunted for clues Tuesday in the assassination of Moscow’s ambassador to Turkey in front of stunned onlookers at a photo exhibition in Ankara, while straining to keep bilateral tensions in check.
A team of 18 Russian investigators and Foreign Ministry officials arrived in Turkey and began inspecting the art gallery where Andrei Karlov was shot.
One senior Turkish government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it was unlikely that the gunman, 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, a member of Ankara’s riot police squad, acted alone. The official said the killing had all the marks of being “fully professional, not a one-man action.”
So far, authorities have detained only people close to the gunman in their investigation: Altintas’ parents, sister, three other relatives and his roommate in Ankara.
Independent Turkish security analyst Abdullah Agar said it was “likely that an organization was behind” the assassination.
The analyst said that Altintas’ behavior and the manner in which he carried out the attack “gives the impression that he received training that was much more than riot police training.”
Mr. Agar also said the gunman’s words, which he uttered in Arabic, were from a passage frequently cited by Islamic jihadi groups such as the Islamic State that are active in neighboring Syria and Iraq.
Altintas shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” in Turkish during the attack, and yelled, “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” He continued in Arabic: “We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad.”
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said the country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, gave Secretary of State John F. Kerry information on the assailant during a telephone conversation Tuesday.
Mr. Cavusoglu also told Mr. Kerry that both Turkey and Russia “know” that a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the attack, the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
Turkey has accused Mr. Gulen, who lives in exile in rural Pennsylvania, of orchestrating a failed military coup in July aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and accuses the cleric of wanting to destabilize Turkey. It is pressing the United States to extradite Mr. Gulen to Turkey to stand trial for his suspected role in the coup attempt. Mr. Gulen has denied the accusations, and the Obama administration has said there is not enough evidence legally to force him to leave.
Few details about the policeman or the initial investigation have been made public. According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, Altintas took leave from work and on Dec. 14 made a hotel reservation near the art exhibition center.
On arrival at the art gallery where the photo exhibition was taking place Monday, Altintas was apparently initially stopped by security, but managed to get through with his weapon by using his police ID. The gun he used to shoot Mr. Karlov appeared to be a weapon that is standard issue for Turkey’s riot police.
Originally from the western town of Soke, near Turkey’s Aegean coast, Altintas had been serving in Ankara’s riot police for the past 2½ years. How or why he became impassioned with the war in Syria was unclear.
Russia and Turkey have vowed that the assassination would not derail efforts to repair bilateral ties. Turkey and Russia have been at odds mainly over their opposing views to the conflict in Syria, with Moscow backing ally Syrian President Bashar Assad and Ankara supporting rebels fighting to depose him. With Russia’s air support, Syrian government forces have pushed the rebels out of their last foothold in Aleppo.
Mr. Karlov was assassinated after days of protests by Turks angry over Moscow’s support of Mr. Assad and Russia’s actions in Aleppo.
Turkish police guard the arts center where Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov was assassinated Monday. Turkey and Russia are more committed than ever to advance Syria peace efforts, the foreign ministers said.