Sunday 25 August 2019

Gunman kills Russian ambassador to Turkey

*Russian ambassador gunned down in gallery
*No immediate claim of responsibility
*Shooter was an off-duty police officer - reports
*Attacker shouted 'don't forget Aleppo'

The Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov speaks at a gallery in Ankara, moments before the fatal attack (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)
The Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov speaks at a gallery in Ankara, moments before the fatal attack (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

A gunman shouted slogans about Syria's civil war after he killed Russia's ambassador to Turkey in front of stunned onlookers at a photo exhibition in Ankara.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov, 62, was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored exhibition when a man fired at least eight shots, according to reports.

"Don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria," the gunman shouted in Turkish, referring to the Syrian city where Russian bombardments have helped drive rebels from areas they had occupied for years during the war.

He also shouted: "Allahu akbar," the Arabic phrase for "God is great" and continued in Arabic: "We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Mohammad, for jihad."

The gunman approached Mr Karlov as he lay on the ground and shot him at least one more time at close range.

The attacker also smashed several of the framed photos hung for the exhibition. There was panic as people ran for cover.

Three other people were wounded in the attack, Turkey's NTV television said.

After shooting the ambassador, the gunman climbed to the second floor of the same building and a 15-minute shoot-out with police ensued before he was killed, Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported.

The attack comes a day before a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign and defence ministers in Moscow to discuss Syria.

Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nearly six-year conflict, while Turkey has supported Mr Assad's opponents.

"It's a tragic day in the history of our country and Russian diplomacy," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.

"Ambassador Karlov has made a lot of personal contributions to the development of ties with Turkey. He has done a lot to overcome a crisis in bilateral relations," she said.

"He was a man who put his heart and his soul into his job. It's a terrible loss for us and also the world."

Mr Karlov joined the diplomatic service in 1976. He served as Russia's ambassador to Pyongyang in 2001-2006, and later worked as the chief of the Foreign Ministry's consular department. He had served as the ambassador to Turkey since 2013.

US State Department spokesman John Kirby said US officials were aware of reports about the shooting.

"We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source," Mr Kirby said.

The United Nations also condemned the attack.

"There can be no justification for an attack on an ambassador ... and we very much hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Melih Gokcek, the mayor for Ankara, told reporters outside the exhibition centre that the "heinous" attack aimed to disrupt newly-re-established relations between Turkey and Russia.

Relations between Russia and Turkey were badly strained by the downing of a Russian warplane at the Syrian border in November 2015, but Turkey's apology earlier this year helped overcome the rift.

The leaders of the two countries, Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have held several meetings in recent months and spoken frequently over the phone.

Russia and Turkey have co-sponsored the evacuation of civilians and rebels from Aleppo and also discussed the prospect of organising a new round of peace talks in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

Turkey has struggled with multiple security threats in recent years, including Kurdish militants who claimed responsibility for a December 10 bombing in Istanbul that killed 44 people, many of them police.

The Islamic State group fighting in Syria and Iraq has also been blamed for attacks in Turkey, a Nato member and a partner in the US-led campaign against the group.

Additionally, Turkish security forces and courts remain preoccupied with purging state institutions of the supporters of an exiled Islamist cleric whom the government accuses of staging a failed coup attempt in July.


Turkey's interior minister later said that the gunman who assassinated the ambassador was a policeman.

Suleyman Soylu said that the gunman was working for the riot police squad in Ankara for the past two-and-a-half years.

He identified the attacker as Mevlut Mert Altintas, who was born in 1994.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in televised remarks during a meeting with senior officials, said that the killing of Ambassador Andrei Karlov was a "provocation aimed at derailing Russia-Turkey ties and the peace process in Syria".

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a video message being shown on several Turkish TV channels, says that "this is a provocation to damage the normalisation process of Turkish-Russian relations".

"But both the Russian and Turkish administrations have the determination not to fall for this provocation," he added.

Both leaders said that Russian investigators will be part of the official probe into the assassination.


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