ANKARA: Turkish authorities were on Tuesday holding six people over the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by an off-duty policeman, as Russia urgently sought answers over the murder.
With the Turkish capital already on high alert after a string of attacks this year, an individual also fired outside the US embassy in Ankara overnight in a separate incident.
President Vladimir Putin declared “we have to know who directed the hand of the killer” and the Kremlin said a Russian investigative team were flying to Turkey to probe the murder.
An unprecedented three-way meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Moscow over the Syria crisis was meanwhile set to go ahead despite the killing.
Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot four times in the back by Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, as he opened an exhibition of Russian photography in Ankara.
Dramatic images showed Karlov stumble and then crash to the ground on his back as the attacker brandished his gun 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.
‘Carrying police ID’
Altintas had set off the metal detector security check when he entered the exhibition in central Ankara as he was carrying a gun, the pro-government Sabah daily said.
But after showing his police ID, he was waved through and allowed to proceed.
The Hurriyet daily added that Altintas, who had worked for Ankara’s anti-riot police for the last two and a half years, 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 center.
He was later killed by police after a shootout that lasted over 15 minutes.
Altintas was born in the town of Soke in Aydin province in western Turkey and attended a special school for training future policemen.
Six people have been detained over the attack, including the sister, mother, father and uncle of Altintas, Turkish media said.
The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, known for his outspoken comments, speculated on his official Twitter account that the attacker may be linked to the group of Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the July 15 coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
His suggestion has yet to be echoed by other officials but was repeated in the pro-government press, which claimed what Ankara terms the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETO) was behind the attack.
“An attack on friendship by treacherous FETO,” said Sabah. “A bullet from FETO,” added the Star daily.
The mainstream Hurriyet said that authorities were investigating the assassin’s possible links to the Gulen movement.
They were particularly focusing on friends Altintas may have had at the police academy, it added.
Gulen, who denies having any link to the failed coup bid, issued a statement condemning “in the strongest terms this heinous act of terror”.
‘Bandits will feel this’
Hours after the assassination, an individual fired outside the main gate of the US embassy in Ankara, the mission said in a statement.
It said no-one was hurt and the individual was detained but the embassy and consulates in Istanbul and Adana were closed for normal operations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a group of Russian investigators were flying out to Turkey to probe the murder in a move agreed by Putin and Erdogan.
The corpse of Karlov was in an Ankara morgue and would be flown back to Moscow, Turkish media reports said.
The killing came after days of protests in Turkey over Russia’s role in Syria, although Moscow and Ankara are now working closely together to evacuate citizens from the battered city of Aleppo.
Putin called the killing of Russia’s ambassador a “provocation” aimed at sabotaging warming ties between Moscow and Ankara and efforts to resolve the conflict in Syria.
“There can be only one answer to this—stepping up the fight against terrorism, and the bandits will feel this,” Putin said.
Turkey and Russia stand on opposite sides of the Syria conflict, with Ankara backing rebels trying to topple Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.
But the rhetoric has warmed considerably since a reconciliation deal was signed earlier this year and the tripartite meeting in Moscow Tuesday is just the latest in a series of contacts.
Born in 1954 in Moscow, Karlov was a career diplomat who had began his career under the USSR in 1976. He was Russian ambassador to North Korea from 2001-2006. AFP