A gunman believed to be an off-duty policeman shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Monday night in Ankara.
Ambassador Andrey Karlov was making a speech at the opening of an art exhibition when a man dressed in a suit approached the podium and opened fire. The well-dressed gunman stood on the side of the stage, leading many in the audience to assume he was a bodyguard.
Without warning, he shot Karlov in the back, yelling “Allahu Akbar” and vowing to avenge what he said are Russian murders of innocent people in Syria. He pointed his pistol at the ceiling and briefly at the audience while the mortally wounded ambassador lay on the floor and tearful guests cowered behind tables.
The entire scene was captured on video.
One witness told VOA the gunman shouted “Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria! As long as our lands aren’t safe, you will not be safe.”
Three other people were wounded before security officers shot the gunman dead. Ambassador Karlov died at a hospital.
He has been Russia’s ambassador to Turkey since 2013.
Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek identified the assassin as a 22-year-old police officer, Mevlut Mert Altintas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the killing as an act of terrorism.
“There is no doubt that the committed crime is a provocation aimed at ruining Russian-Turkish relations and the peace process in Syria which is moving forward with the help of Russia, Turkey, and Iran,” Putin said. “The answer is to strengthen the counter-terrorism efforts and the criminals will feel that soon.”
Putin is demanding to know “who directed the killer’s hand,” and is asking Turkey to step up security at Russian diplomat posts.
White House spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. strongly condemns the assassination and sends its condolences to the victims.
“This 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.”
Secretary of State John Kerry called it a “despicable attack,” and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “appalled by this senseless act of terror.” Ban said there can be no justification for targeting diplomatic personnel and civilians.
President-elect Donald Trump called the murder of an ambassador “a violation of all rules of civilized order.” He called the gunman a “radical Islamic terrorist,” but Turkish officials have imposed a news blackout and have not provided any further details on the gunman.
A Turkish official said there are “very strong signs” the gunman was a follower of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States and is suspected of helping direct July’s failed coup in Turkey.
A Gulen spokesman denied the cleric had anything to do with the assassination and told Reuters Gulen “categorically denies this heinous act.”
Ties between Russia Turkey have been slowly improving since Turkish jets shot down a Russian bomber that strayed into its airspace from Syria last year.
Russian and Turkish officials have been working together to resolve the refugee crisis in Aleppo, caused, in part, by Russian airstrikes on Syrian rebels.
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