World First Look

What's behind the assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey?

A top Russian diplomat was killed yesterday by an off-duty Turkish police officer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif lay flowers in memory of murdered Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov before their talks in Moscow, Russia, December 20, 2016.
Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
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Caption

Nations around the world are condemning the murder of Russia's ambassador to Turkey, calling for solidarity in the fight against terrorism after a Turkish man shot the ambassador at an art event.

On Monday, an off-duty Ankara police officer entered an embassy-sponsored photo exhibition called "Russia as seen by Turks" in Ankara, shooting Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov eight times. Mr. Karlov was rushed to a hospital and later pronounced dead.

The gunman, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, then yelled in Arabic and Turkish, saying "don't forget about Aleppo, don't forget about Syria" and used the Arabic phrase "Allahu Akbar,’ meaning, “God is great.” Witnesses say he ordered everyone to leave and refused to cooperate with security, telling them to call police to the exhibit. 

He was killed after a standoff with police.

Karlov had served as a diplomat for more than 30 years, first from the Soviet Union to North Korea. He became the ambassador to Turkey in 2013.

Mr. Altıntaş, 22, was born in western Turkey and had attended a police school. He was currently on leave from the department for health-related reasons. Authorities say he had no apparent ties to extremist groups.

Following the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered additional security measures for the nation’s embassies around the world and said the attack likely stemmed from discontent with bilateral ties between the two nations involving the “peace process in Syria.”

The shooting has brought nations around the world together, with many, including the US and Syria, issuing their condolences to Russia and condemning the senseless violence.

The act came just a day after protests erupted in Turkey decrying Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A day later, on Tuesday, Turkey, Russia, and Iran had planned to meet to discuss the crisis in Syria.

Some hope the shocking tragedy will help officials from different nations and backgrounds to come together and find make trilateral agreements.

"This tragedy forces all of us to fight international terrorism more effectively," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

It’s unclear if the assassination, which authorities have referred to as an act of terror, will work to further fracture Russian-Turkish relations in the long term. For now, the two nations are cooperating on the investigation, and leaders are vowing to work together to prevent such incidents in the future.

“We know that this is a provocation aiming to destroy the normalization process of Turkey-Russia relations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a speech Monday night. “But the Russian government and the Turkish republic have the will to not fall into that provocation.”

But others are backing the assassination, saying it’s a political move that will finally bring attention and justice to the people of Syria.

Mohammed al-Shibli, a Syrian activist who attended a gathering in Istanbul Monday night, said he felt “happiness when I heard the news.”

“This is the first step in getting justice for the Syrian people,” he told The New York Times. “The ambassador is not innocent. He represents the foreign policy of his murderous state and thus he is a murderer, as well. Now we are waiting for revenge against everyone who shed blood in Syria.”

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