Turkey detains six over murder of Russian envoy

Altintas was seen approaching Mr Karlov (below) before opening fire and killing the Russian Ambassador. The gunman shouted several statements suggesting support for radical Islam (above) before he was killed.
Altintas was seen approaching Mr Karlov (above) before opening fire and killing the Russian Ambassador. The gunman shouted several statements suggesting support for radical Islam before he was killed.PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Both countries cast attack as an attempt to undermine recent thawing of relations

ANKARA • Turkish police have detained six people over the killing of the Russian Ambassador, state media said yesterday, widening a probe to relatives of the assassin who shouted "Don't forget Aleppo!" as he gunned the envoy down.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov, 62, was shot multiple times in the back by Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, as the envoy opened an exhibition of Russian photography in the capital, Ankara.

Dramatic images showed Mr Karlov stumble and then crash to the ground on his back as the attacker brandished his handgun at terrified onlookers, who cowered behind cocktail tables.

The gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is greatest) and then said all those responsible for what has happened in Syria and Aleppo would be held accountable. He was then killed by security forces.

Both countries cast Monday's attack as an attempt to undermine a recent thawing of ties that have been strained by Syria's civil war, where they back opposing sides.

Altintas was seen approaching Mr Karlov before opening fire and killing the Russian Ambassador. The gunman shouted several statements suggesting support for radical Islam (above) before he was killed. PHOTOS: ASSOCIATED PRESS

The war, which has killed more than 300,000 people and created a power vacuum exploited by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), reached a potential turning point last week when Syrian forces ended rebel resistance in the northern city of Aleppo.

Russia, an ally of President Bashar al-Assad, supported that advance with air strikes.

The attacker, Altintas, had worked for the Ankara riot police for 21/2 years, the authorities said.

His mother, father, sister and two other relatives were held in the western province of Aydin, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

One senior Turkish security official said investigators were focusing on whether Altintas had links to United States-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for a failed coup in July. Mr Gulen has denied responsibility for the coup and Monday's attack, and has condemned both events.

The slogans that Altintas shouted, which were captured on video and circulated widely on social media, suggested that he was aligned to radical Islamist ideology, rather than that of Mr Gulen, who preaches a message of interfaith dialogue.

"Don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria! You will not be able to feel safe for as long as our districts are not safe. Only death can take me from here," he shouted in Turkish.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had agreed in a telephone call that their cooperation in fighting terrorism should be even stronger after the killing.

Mr Putin said the attack was aimed at derailing Russia's attempts to find, with Iran and Turkey, a solution to the Syria crisis.

Both countries' foreign ministers met yesterday. A team of Russian investigators is in Ankara.

"We have to know who direc- ted the hand of the killer," Mr Putin declared.

  • Envoy worked to ease Syria tensions

  • Russia's Ambassador to Turkey, Mr Andrei Karlov, was a career diplomat who started working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR and Russia in 1976.

    Born in 1954, he attended the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and the nation's Diplomatic Academy, according to a biography on the embassy website.

    He did several stints at Russia's mission in North Korea before becoming ambassador there between 2001 and 2006.

    He became Russian ambassador to Turkey in July 2013. Mr Karlov was repeatedly called upon to ease tensions over Russia's role in the Syrian civil war.

    He was married and had a son.

    Mr Richard Moore, the British Ambassador to Turkey, described Mr Karlov in a Twitter post after the attack as soft-spoken, hospitable and professional.

    His killer, Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, had worked for Ankara's anti-riot police for the past 21/2 years.

    Altintas was born in the town of Soke in Aydin province in western Turkey and attended a special school for training future policemen.

    The mainstream Hurriyet newspaper said that the authorities were investigating the assassin's possible links to the movement of Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the July 15 coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


Altintas had set off the metal detector when he entered the photo exhibition as he was carrying a gun, the pro-government Daily Sabah reported. But after showing his police ID, he was waved through and allowed to proceed.

The mainstream Hurriyet newspaper added that he had stayed at a nearby hotel to prepare for the attack. It said Altintas, who was off duty at the time, had put on a suit and tie and shaved at the hotel before heading to the exhibition.

Turkey faces multiple security threats, including from ISIS. Earlier this month, a spokesman for the hardline Sunni Muslim group urged global sympathisers to carry out new attacks, singling out Turkish diplomatic, military and financial interests as preferred targets.

Altintas also shouted "We are the ones who swore allegiance to Muhammad for the jihad!", which the Hurriyet said was a slogan commonly used in propaganda videos of the group formerly allied to Al-Qaeda in Syria.

Singapore has condemned the killing. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday: "There can be no justification for such a despicable act, particularly against a diplomat. We offer our condolences to the family of Ambassador Karlov and the Russian people."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the street where the Russian Embassy is located would be named after the ambassador.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday during talks on Syria with Mr Cavusoglu that there should be no "concessions to terrorists".

"This tragedy forces all of us to fight more decisively against terrorism," Mr Lavrov told Mr Cavusoglu in Moscow.

"For this reason, I very much hope that our talks and the upcoming three-way meeting with our Iranian colleague will allow us to reach agreements, which will through concrete actions advance the settlement in Syria."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2016, with the headline 'Turkey detains six over murder of Russian envoy'. Print Edition | Subscribe