Dec 20, 2016 by

Turkey and Russia say they will continue to seek solution to end Syria conflict as Andrei Karlov’s body is repatriated after airport ceremony

Turkish forces carry the Russian flag-draped coffin of Andrei Karlov during a ceremony at Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
Turkish forces carry the Russian flag-draped coffin of Andrei Karlov during a ceremony at Ankara’s Esenboga airport. Photograph: Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Russia and Turkey put on a united front on Tuesday, insisting that the killing of Moscow’s ambassador in Ankara would not affect bilateral relations, or cooperation over Syria.

The Turkish foreign and defence ministers joined their Russian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow, where the three countries said they had started work on a new plan to resolve the Syrian conflict.

The body of Andrei Karlov was flown back to Russia after a ceremony at Ankara airport attended by senior Turkish officials and presided over by a Russian Orthodox priest.

The parents, sister, roommate and two other relatives of the gunman, named as off-duty riot police officer Mevlut Mert Altıntas, 22, were being questioned by Turkish authorities. A team of 18 Russian investigators arrived in the country to work on a joint probe into the killing.

Karlov was shot multiple times by Altıntas on Monday evening, during the opening of a photography exhibition at a gallery in the Turkish capital. Altıntas was shot by police at the scene.

While some initially feared a downward spiral in relations similar to the aftermath of Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter jet in late 2015, officials from both countries were quick to stress their desire for cooperation in the aftermath of the attack. Instead, both countries emphasised their joint work on Syria and said they were committed to fighting terrorism.

Vladimir Putin called Karlov’s murder a “provocation” aimed at undermining improved relations between the two countries and their 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,” said the Russian president.

The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, paid his respects to Karlov in Moscow. “Both sides understand that this low act will not harm our relations, we will do everything to make sure of that,” he said.

Turkish officials suggested Altıntas had ties to the movement led by Fethullah Gülen, a US-based preacher whose group is widely believed in Turkey to have masterminded a coup attempt in July.

“The investigation continues but … findings suggest it’s worth looking into the shooter’s Gülenist ties,” a senior Turkish government official with knowledge of the investigation said.


Gülen issued a statement denying any connection to the attack. “I condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of terror,” he said. “No terrorist act can be justified, regardless of its perpetrators and their stated purposes.”

The Turkish interior ministry said Altıntas was an officer in Ankara’s riot police squad, who was born in 1994 in Aydin and graduated from İzmir police academy. He had worked for the riot police for the past two and a half years. Altıntas was stationed in the restive city of Diyarbakir during the coup attempt in July, one official told the Guardian.

Several classmates of the gunman who spoke with investigators said Altıntas had Gülenist sympathies, the official claimed, and two police officers who wrote recommendation letters when he applied to the police academy have been dismissed over alleged ties to the Gülen movement.

There has so far been no independent confirmation of Altıntas having any Gülenist links or sympathy, and sceptics will note that it is in the Turkish government’s interest to portray the killer as a follower of its main foe.

It is believed that Altıntas took a taxi to the Best Hotel behind the art exhibit from the neighbourhood of Kecioren where he lived with a roommate, in civilian clothes and carrying a suit and a travel bag.

When asked by the taxi driver whether he was travelling onwards anywhere, he said: “Yes, tonight.”

He flashed his police ID at security guards when entering the exhibition and was allowed to pass despite his gun setting off the metal detector, according to reports.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov lay flowers in Ankara.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov lay flowers in Ankara. Photograph: TASS / Barcroft Images

Footage of the attack showed Altıntas, dressed in a suit and tie, standing calmly behind the ambassador. He then pulled out a gun and shouted “Allahu Akbar”. Forensic analysis showed that Altintas fired his gun – a Nato-standard 9mm handgun – 11 times. Nine bullets were found inside the ambassador’s body.

After firing at the ambassador, he shouted in Turkish: “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won’t enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price.”

Timur Ozkan, the organizer of the exhibit who was in the hall when the assassination happened, described a chaotic scene in the aftermath of the shooting.
“I was shocked, I don’t really remember what I thought, I was just praying that he hadn’t died,” he said, speaking outside the cordoned off exhibition centre where the Russian envoy was assassinated. “But he shot him twice after he went down so I knew he had died.”

Ozkan said he was just three meters away from the ambassador when the assailant fired his gun. He said attendees assumed he was in Karlov’s security detail because he only got up when the ambassador went up to speak, standing behind him.

When the shots were fired, the attendees fell to the ground. They ran out when the assassin shouted: “Get the civilians out and let the guards in.”

Russian officials did not directly mention Gülen, but suggested the attack had been carried out by unspecified dark forces with an interest in harming Russian-Turkish relations and the Syrian peace process.

Peskov described the assassination as “advantageous to those who want to cause discord between Russia and Turkey and halt the normalisation of relations … both bilaterally and in terms of joining forces for a Syrian political settlement. Who exactly it was will be determined by investigators.”

Serkan Demirtas, a longtime diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper Hurriyet who knew Karlov personally, said the ambassador’s efforts had been crucial to the recent rapprochement between Turkey and Russia.

He said Karlov was a conduit to the recent ceasefire talks that led to the evacuation of civilians from the besieged districts of east Aleppo, and played a significant role in Turkey’s drawing closer to Russia on Syria by helping broker agreements behind closed doors. He described the Russian ambassador as a low-profile, old-fashioned diplomat who never walked around with a security detail.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Russia, Turkey and Iran released a declaration on plans to draft a new Syrian peace roadmap.

“Iran, Russia and Turkey are ready to facilitate the drafting of an agreement, which is already being negotiated, between the Syrian government and the opposition, and to become its guarantors,” the declaration said.

Additional reporting by Onur Burcak Belli

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