The extraordinarily cinematic-looking assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey today in an Ankara art gallery by a young Turkish policeman is the latest in a long series of events I routinely characterize as “Byzantine” because I have no idea what’s really going on, but it makes me sound knowing.
The Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot in the back and killed as he gave a speech at an Ankara art gallery on Monday by an off-duty police officer who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo” and “Allahu Akbar” as he opened fire.
President Tayyip Erdogan, in a video message to the nation, cast the attack as an attempt to undermine NATO-member Turkey’s relations with Russia – ties long tested by the war in Syria. He said he had agreed in a telephone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin to step up cooperation in fighting terrorism.
By the way, AP photographer Burhan Ozbilici bravely kept photographing and caught this picture from the wrong end of the barrel of the gun.
The 2001/A Clockwork Orange-style picture at the top of the post is credited by Reuters to Hasim Kilic/Hurriyet.
The assassination of an ambassador, not least of a major power such as Russia, marks a dangerous escalation of tension in the region and beyond. Security sources said he was off duty and some witnesses said there was no security scanning machine at the entrance.
A video showed the attacker shouting: “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” and “Allahu Akbar” (“God is Greatest”) as screams rang out. He paced about and shouted as he held the gun in one hand and waved the other in the air.
Russia is an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its air strikes helped Syrian forces end rebel resistance last week in the northern city of Aleppo. Turkey, which seeks Assad’s ouster, has been repairing ties with Moscow after shooting down a Russian warplane over Syria last year.
Erdogan, who has faced a string of attacks by Islamist and Kurdish militants as well as an attempted coup in July, identified the attacker as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had worked for Ankara riot police for two and a half years. CNN Turk TV said police had detained his sister and mother.
A senior security official said there were “very strong signs” the gunman belonged to the network of the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says orchestrated the failed coup in July. Erdogan has denounced Gulen as a terrorist, but the cleric, a former ally, denies the accusation.
I wrote a column about Gulen for Taki’s Magazine three years ago that can be helpful in getting up to speed.
Gulen described the killing as a “heinous act of terror” that pointed to a deterioration of security in Turkey resulting from Erdogan’s wide-ranging purge of police as well as the army, judiciary and media following the coup bid.
The government says Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999, created a “parallel network” in the police, military, judiciary and civil service aimed at overthrowing the state.
It seems there ought to be enough evidence by now to put Gulen on trial here in the U.S. for skimming hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars off all the charter schools his followers run in our country.