Russian ambassador to Turkey assassinated by police officer ‘in revenge for Aleppo’
The gunman reportedly said ‘We die in Aleppo, you die here’ as he fatally shot Ambassador Andrei Karlov
Russia’s ambassador to Turkey has been assassinated by an off-duty police officer in front of terrified witnesses allegedly in retaliation for the crisis in Aleppo.
The gunman – smartly dressed in a black suit and tie – reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” and said in Turkish “We die in Aleppo, you die here” after shooting Ambassador Andrei Karlov in the back.
The attacker was fatally shot by police after killing Mr Karlov and wounding three others in what Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called “an act of terrorism”.
Mr Karlov, 62, was delivering a speech at an art gallery in the capital of Ankara when he was shot from behind in an attack caught on camera, and then shot at least once more at close range as he lay on the floor.
The gunman – identified by Turkish officials as Mevlut Mert Altıntas – was a police officer who used police identification to enter Ankara’s Centre for Contemporary Arts.
The 22-year-old had been a member of Ankara’s elite anti-riot police for two-and-a-half years.
After killing the ambassador he reportedly shouted: “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria! As long as our brothers are not safe, you will not enjoy safety.
“Whoever has a share in this oppression will pay for it one-by-one.
“Only death will take me away from here.”
Prosecutors said authorities raided an address linked to the shooter and his family, and Turkish media said the gunman’s father, mother and sister had been detained for questioning.
A senior security official told Reuters there are “very strong signs” that the gunman belonged to the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who was accused of orchestrating a failed coup in July.
The unnamed official said the current investigation was focused on the gunman’s links to the network.
In a televised address Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the assassination was a “provocation” aimed at undermining the “peace process” in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch opponent of Assad, also spoke on TV and said the attack was an attempt to disrupt Turkey-Russia relations.
Both revealed they have agreed to strengthen ties and launch a joint investigation into the assassination to determine if the gunman was following orders.
Turkey and Russia have backed opposite sides in the Syrian war. Russia’s air strikes were instrumental in helping Syrian forces end rebel resistance in war-torn Aleppo this month.
The assassination and aftermath were captured on camera, with horrific footage showing Mr Karlov speaking at a podium before falling to the floor as gunshots were heard.
Photos showed the attacker standing behind Mr Karlov with his hands clasped before pulling out a handgun in his right hand and opening fire.
The gunman extended his right arm and pointed the gun at Mr Karlov, and then gestured with his left index finger pointed into the air after shooting the ambassador multiple times.
Witnesses were heard screaming in terror as they ran out of the art gallery, and the gunman was heard shouting slogans as he pointed his finger in the air and pointed his gun towards the fleeing crowd.
He also smashed framed photographs hanging on the art gallery’s walls.
Photos and video published online by Turkish media showed Mr Karlov and a second person on the floor after being shot at the opening of a photography exhibition called “Russia in the Eyes of Turks”.
The event was sponsored by the Russian Embassy in Ankara.
Three others were wounded as the shooting continued and people fled for their lives.
A witness told Reuters: “He took out his gun and shot the ambassador from behind.
“We saw him lying on the floor and then we ran out.”
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said the gunman was killed in a 15 minute shootout with police after he made his way to the second floor of the art gallery.
The Kremlin said Putin was holding an emergency meeting in the wake of the assassination.
He spoke to Erdogan by telephone within hours of the attack.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “We regard this as a terrorist act.
“Terrorism will not win and we will fight against it decisively.”
The shooting occurred a day before Russia was set to host a foreign ministers’ meeting on the crisis in Syria with Turkey and Iran.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoglu was travelling to Moscow at the time of the shooting, and the trilateral meeting is still scheduled to go ahead as planned.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said it will not allow the shooting to “cast a shadow” over Turkey-Russia relations, expressing sadness and condemning the “lowly terrorist attack”.
Security guard the area outside where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot inside an art gallery
Police on scene outside the art gallery (Photo: Getty Images Europe)
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu arrives at the art gallery (Photo: REUTERS)
Mr Karlov, who was married and had a son, had been Russia’s ambassador to Turkey since 2013 and previously served as ambassador to North Korea from 2001 to 2006.
He is the first foreign diplomat to be murdered in Turkey since 1971, when Israeli consul-general in Istanbul, Efraim Elrom, was kidnapped and shot dead by militants.
Shortly after Mr Karlov’s death was announced governments around the world condemned the attack.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Twitter: “Shocked to hear of despicable murder of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey.
“My thoughts are with his family. I condemn this cowardly attack.”
In a statement, the White House said: “The United States strongly condemns the assassination of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, in Ankara today, which reportedly also left others wounded.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of Ambassador Karlov and the other victims, and we offer our condolences to the Russian people and Government.
“The heinous attack on a member of the diplomatic corps is unacceptable, and we stand united with Russia and Turkey in our determination to confront terrorism in all of its forms.”
The US State Department issued a warning to American tourists in or travelling to Ankara, tweeting: “Reports of shooting near US Embassy Ankara – US citizens advised to avoid Embassy area until further notice.”
The travel warning referenced the shooting at the art gallery, which is near the US Embassy, not a second incident, the @TravelGov Twitter account later clarified.
In a statement published by state media Syria condemned the killing as a “cowardly” attack and offered condolences to Mr Karlov’s family and the Russian people.
Russia is Syria’s most powerful ally and has played a major role in the Syrian government’s attempts to eradicate rebel groups across the country.
In recent weeks pro-government forces have made rapid advances on rebel-held territory in the devastated city of Aleppo, leaving many people dead or wounded.
Aleppo crisis: First wave of buses packed with terrified civilians leaves besieged city
After rebels were driven into an enclave in eastern Aleppo after heavy bombing a ceasefire was brokered by Russian and Turkish officials.
The deal included the ongoing evacuation of thousands of rebels and civilians, including women and children, from Aleppo to rebel-held territory in Idlib province in north-western Syria.
Turkey’s relationship with Russia has been strained in recent years amid the crisis in Syria and after Turkish forces downed a Russian fighter jet along the border with Syria in November last year.
Russia denied Turkey’s accusation that the fighter jet had entered Turkish air space.
Since late June efforts have been underway to repair the relationship, with Putin and Erdogan meeting a number of times.
Fethullah Gulen has been living in self-imposed exile in the US (Photo: Getty)
Turkey has struggled with a string of attacks by Islamist and Kurdish militants but the killing of a Russian envoy is expected to resonate through the region.
Since a failed coup in July, Erdogan has been purging the police of supporters of Gulen, an exiled cleric and former ally, whom he characterises as the chief terrorist threat to Turkey.
The government says Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the US state of Pennsylvania since 1999, created a “parallel network” in the police, military, judiciary and civil service aimed at overthrowing the state. The cleric denies this.