Turkey links Russian diplomat’s assassin to U.S.-based cleric.
Erdogan says is part of a plot to overthrow his leadership
ANKARA, TURKEY | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday implicated a U.S.-based Muslim cleric in the killing of
Russia’s envoy to
Turkey, saying the policeman who carried out the attack was a member of the cleric’s “terror organization.”
Ambassador Andrei Karlov was killed Monday eve- ning by a gunman in front of stunned onlookers at a photo exhibition in Ankara. The assassin, Mevlut Mert Altintas of Ankara’s riot police squad, was killed in a police operation.
“He [Altintas] was a member of the FETO terrorist organization. There is no point in hiding this,” Mr. Erdogan said during a joint news conference with his visiting Albanian counterpart. “From the places he was raised to his connections — that’s what they point at.”
Turkey has accused Fethullah Gulen — a former ally who has turned into Mr. Erdogan’s top foe — of trying to destabilize Turkey and says his movement is behind a failed military coup in July aimed at toppling the Turkish leader.
Mr. Gulen has denied any involvement in the coup. His movement also condemned “in the strongest terms” the ambassador’s assassination.
Turkey’s government, however, has labeled the movement “the FETO terror organization,” and has cracked down on Mr. Gulen’s followers, arresting tens of thousands of people for their alleged link to the coup and purging more than 100,000 suspected supporters from government jobs.
Turkey also is pressing the United States to extradite Mr. Gulen so he may be prosecuted for the coup attempt and other alleged crimes.
Mr. Erdogan told reporters that Turkey’s intelligence agency also is looking into Altintas’ possible foreign connections, saying there were “certain clues” indicating overseas links. He did not elaborate.
Turkey has been rife with speculation about Altintas’ motive and possible links to Mr. Gulen, but Mr. Erdogan’s statement was the first time a senior official openly blamed the killing on the movement.
On Tuesday evening Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke with Secretary of State John F. Kerry by phone and provided information on the assailant, according to an official in his ministry. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, said Mr. Cavusoglu also told Mr. Kerry that both Turkey and Russia “know” that Mr. Gulen’s movement was behind the attack.
During the phone call, Mr. Kerry raised concerns about “some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey with respect to American involvement or support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination yesterday because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States,” said Kerry spokesman John Kirby.
“It’s a ludicrous claim, absolutely false,” Mr. Kirby said. “We need to let the investigators do their job, and we need to let the facts and the evidence take them where it is before we jump to conclusions.”
Russia flew a team of 18 investigators and Foreign Ministry officials to Turkey to participate in the investigation. In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman indicated that Russia doesn’t believe the 22-year-old gunman acted on his own, but refused to explain the reasons for the suspicion.
“We shouldn’t rush with any theories before the investigators establish who were behind the assassination of our ambassador,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.