Off-duty police officer identified in fatal shooting of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey
Russian ambassador shot in Turkey
A gunman opened fire on Russia’s ambassador to Turkey at a photo exhibition on Monday. The Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said he was hospitalized with a gunshot wound.
Umar Farooq and Laura King
An off-duty Turkish police officer who shouted, “Don’t forget Syria and Aleppo!” shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey on Monday as he delivered a speech in the capital, Ankara — a bloody episode that was captured on video and posted on social media.
The assailant, identified by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu as a 22-year-old riot policeman, was himself gunned down by security forces. The ambassador, who was shot multiple times, was pronounced dead at the hospital a short time after the shooting, officials said.
The attack appeared to represent the latest violent spillover of the Syrian conflict into neighboring Turkey. Suicide bombings linked to the fighting in Syria have become almost commonplace in Turkey, often causing mass casualties, but this was the first deadly attack on a senior diplomat that was seemingly motivated by the brutal and multi-sided war next door.
Russia and Turkey, which have both intervened militarily in Syria, are on opposite sides of the conflict. Russian firepower has helped Syrian President Bashar Assad cling to power and recapture opposition-held east Aleppo; Turkey has allied itself with some of the rebels seeking to topple him.
The video of the attack, which took place at a photo exhibition sponsored by the Russian embassy, shows the envoy – veteran diplomat Andrei Karlov, 62—collapsing minutes into his speech after apparently being shot from behind. The gunman moves into the frame, clad in a black suit and tie and holding a handgun, and can be heard shouting in Turkish as onlookers flee in panic. At least three bystanders were reported injured.
“We die in Aleppo, you die here!” the shooter yells out before firing several shots into the air. “You will not taste security until our towns are secure! Do not forget about Syria and Aleppo! Whoever is part of it will get their punishment!”
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan were quick to draw a connection to July’s attempted coup against Erdogan, which was followed by a purge of tens of thousands of suspected political opponents. The mayor of Ankara, Ibrahim Melih Gokcek, who is from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, claimed the shooter was a follower of Fethullah Gulen, an elderly cleric living in self-exile in the United States and blamed by Turkey for masterminding the coup attempt.
Relations between Turkey and Russia nosedived in November 2015 after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet along the Syrian border. Erdogan earlier this year had a fence-mending session with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the two countries have agreed to revive a natural-gas pipeline project that had been suspended, among other cooperative steps.
The assassination came on the heels of near-daily protests outside the Russian embassy in Ankara as well as the consulate in Istanbul. Thousands of Turks and Syrians have been holding rallies at the Russian diplomatic outposts, along with the Iranian consulate and embassy, over the two governments’ war roles in support of Assad. They have escalated amid reports of heavy civilian casualties in Aleppo during the re-capture of the city’s eastern sector from the rebels.
Scores of Turkish police were deployed at a protest last week at the Russian consulate on Istanbul’s main central avenue that drew thousands. Protesters chanted, “Putin, murderer! Russia, murderer! You will get your punishment!”
Adding to the tension, there were reports of gunshots fired near the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, and the State Department warned Americans to avoid the area.
The State Department, which has been harshly critical of Russia’s role in the Syrian war, expressed dismay over the attack. “We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source,” said spokesman John Kirby. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
The Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it will not allow the assassination to "cast a shadow" over relations with Russia, and called the killing a "lowly terrorist attack." Erdogan called Putin to offer his condolences.
Russia called the killing a terrorist act and said it would bring up the episode with the United Nations Security Council.
"There is no place for terrorism, and we will be resolutely fighting against it," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to the semi-official TASS news agency.