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Why didn’t they capture the killer alive? Andrei Karlov's murder clues

Melvut Mert Altintas. Photo: AP

The 22-year-old Melvut Mert Altintas managed to get into the Ankara Centre for Contemporary Art using his police ID; he was carrying a pistol with him. After entering the hall where Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was delivering an opening speech at the exhibition “From Kaliningrad to Kamchatka in the Eyes of Travelers” the young man stopped behind the diplomat. Wearing a smart black suit, he could be mistaken for a bodyguard. Scarcely had the ambassador said, “destroying is always easier than building,” the man drew the pistol and shot the diplomat in the back.

Photojournalist for the Associated Press Burhan Ozbilici, who witnessed the armed attack, says when he saw the man in a dark suit and tie, which all took for a guard, pulling a gun, he thought at first that it was a «gimmick to attract attention». In fact, Ozbilici says, it was a coldblooded murder before his eyes and the eyes of other people.

Andrei Karlov’s murderer fired at least five shots, targeting the ambassador even after he fell on the ground. Afterwards, Melvut Altintas gave the "tahwid" index finger signal (of Jihadists) and shout “Remember Aleppo! Remember Syria!” Then proceeded in Turkish and broken Arabic saying, “We die in Aleppo, you die here!” He also screamed: “Only death will take me out of here. Anyone who has a role in this oppression will die one by one.” Afterwards, the police shot the gunman dead.

The 62-year-old Andrei Karlov was shot dead. He was a diplomat with a unique years-long experience in crises and tough political regimes. He had worked in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea for long years. He was the very diplomat who managed to make Russia a participant in the Pyongyang-Beijing-Washington talks. Andrei Karlov was appointed Ambassador to Turkey yet before the Russian warplane was shot down over Syria in 2013. As Hurriyet Daily journalist Murat Yetkin writes, Karlov kept calm in the worst times of the Russian-Turkish relations.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin called Andrei Karlov a brilliant diplomat who was respected in Turkey. “Andrei Karlov was a very intelligent and kind man. I knew him personally and he was accompanying me throughout my latest trip to Turkey this autumn,” President Putin said adding that Ambassador Karlov was “lost in battle.” Vladimir Putin charged the foreign ministry to grant a state decoration to the diplomat posthumously.

Who was behind the assassination of the experienced Russian diplomat? In a phone call, the Russian and Turkish leaders, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to conduct a comprehensive investigation in the case. The two presidents said the Russian-Turkish relations will not be affected by the provocation.

At the same time, the Russian president said Moscow must find out who was behind the murder of Andrei Karlov. Russia’s Investigation Committee has initiated a criminal case over charges of international terrorism. By the latest data, Turkish law-enforcers detained 6 persons suspected in criminal complicity, including the gunman’s family members.

According to Turkish media, it turned out today that the murderer took a leave on the day of Karlov’s assassination and booked a hotel room. A week earlier, he was guarding the Russian Embassy during an anti-Russian picket over Aleppo’s liberation. Today, two theories are much spoken off in Turkey. They say two forces could be behind the assassination of the Russian diplomat that could affect the relations of Turkey and Russia: Syrian supporters of Al Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra group) and supporters of cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Ankara blames for the coup attempt made this July. There are many facts supporting both the theories.

The first fact is the slogans of the gunman whose rhetoric was very similar to the Islamic passages, as Turkish security specialists say.

The second fact is that Mevlut Mert Altintas was reportedly dismissed from police over suspicions of organizing the putsch, though his “dismissal” could be backdated. Otherwise, he would hardly had the police ID that helped him penetrate into the exhibition hall.

Third, Aleppo’s liberation and “moderate opposition’s” defeat there was a strong reason to revenge Russia. In such case, the number of instigators could be larger, since not only Islamists but also the countries backing them were discontented.

The fourth circumstance is that at the moment of assassination, Foreign Minister of Turkey Mevlut Cavusoglu was on board of the plane flying to Moscow where the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are to meet over Syria today. According to Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Andrei Karlov had been recently establishing relations with the Syrian opposition, which could not be welcomed by radical Islamists or Gulen’s supporters. The first feared to lose the opportunity to cover their actions with slogans about fight for democracy in Syria if more moderate militants leave them. Besides, the cooperation of Russia and Turkey over Syria may put an end to the major contradiction between the countries and result in destruction of Al-Qaeda jihadists. For Gulen’s supporters, the murder of the ambassador was a good opportunity to freeze the Russian-Turkish relations and affect the domestic political and economic situation in Turkey.

“I have no doubts that the gunman was instigated either by radical Islamists either from IS (banned in Russia) or by Jabhat al-Nusra. The goal was evident too i.e. they revenge our country for Syria and try to bring Russia and Turkey against each other,” says Franz Klintsevich, the first deputy chairman of the Council of Federation Committee for Defense and Security.

Ankara too tends towards the second scenario. At least, MP from Justice and Development Party (AKP) Kani Torun told Al Jazeera that the attacker was a legitimate active officer, with no evidence of being in contact with groups fighting in Syria.

"According to preliminary findings, he is not a person who has been to Syria and it is very unlikely that he has been in contact with groups in Syria," Torun, who also acts as the deputy chairman of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, told Al Jazeera.

"Accordingly, the only likely culprit for this attack is FETO. They have been very active in police forces," Torun said, using an abbreviation referring to the Gulen movement as a terrorist group. "Although members of this group have been widely wiped out from the police forces. We believe, they can carry out suicide attacks like this."

Assuming that Ankara’s suspicions concerning Gulen’s attempt to make a coup in Turkey with the support of the West are true, the cleric’s “partners” could have had a hand in the ambassador’s assassination. Washington is not likely to be happy with Russia-Turkey-Iran talks that leave it aside of the Syrian settlement. Meantime, Gulen is the U.S. creature.

On the other hand, Ankara blames Gulenists for everything and strengthens Erdogan’s power indulging Islamists that yet not so long ago were protesting against liberation of Aleppo by the government troops. Therefore, the murder could either be planned and organized or it could be an action by a die-hard fanatic. Anyway, no theory can be considered absolutely reliable.

According to Hurriyet Daily, if the attacker had been captured unharmed, or at least wounded, it would have been much easier to get information from him during the interrogation and prosecution.

“But in a small building, against a person carrying only a pistol, the police did not choose methods like using tear gas, or shooting at his legs, or simply talking him into surrendering, but “neutralized him during a clash,” as Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu put it in a statement nearly three hours after the killing – something which must be investigated together with the investigation of the murder.

“Turkey failed to protect the life of a diplomat who was under its responsibility. Karlov was the first ambassador assassinated in Turkey. That is a shame for Turkey. It is the responsibility of the government to remove this burden from the shoulders of Turkey and the Turkish people,” Murat Yetkin writes for conclusion.

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