A gunman fatally shot the Russian ambassador to Turkey at a photo exhibit in Ankara, Turkey’s capital, on Monday. Andrey Karlov had been speaking at the opening of the museum show at the Contemporary Arts Center in the Cankaya district when a well-dressed attacker opened fire multiple times at the diplomat, hitting him in the back. The assassin declared “Do not forget Aleppo!” after spraying bullets through the gallery space. At least three others were also wounded in the attack, according to Turkish media.
The lone gunman was reportedly killed by authorities. Turkish officials have identified him as Mevlüt Mert Altintas, an off-duty riot police officer in his 20s with a little more than two years on the force, says CNN Turk. Altintas allegedly used his police badge to gain entry to the event.
A graphic video, believed to be taken at the exhibit, shows the gunman shouting in both Arabic and Turkish. The attacker paces the floor and brandishes his gun as the body of the ambassador lies splayed on the floor near the podium. The gunman screams, “Allah Akbar!” in Arabic. And then, reportedly in Turkish: “Do not forget Aleppo! Do not forget Syria!”
“Until our regions are safe, you won’t have safety,” he cried. “Go back! Go back! Only death can take me from here. Those who have a part in this atrocity will all pay for it, one by one.”
He also declared, in Arabic, “We are the one who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage jihad.”
Russian officials have come out and called the violence a “terrorist act.” The gunman’s affiliations are unknown, but early signs point to a politically motivated assassination of Karlov. ISIS-linked jihadists or one of Syria’s other radical insurgent groups can’t be ruled out, but Turkish security officials have also implicated the suspected gunman for ties to Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled Muslim cleric who lives in the Poconos, reports Reuters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has accused Gulen of orchestrating a coup against his regime in July; Erdoğan has since purged the judiciary, law enforcement, military, and education ministries of those with suspected ties to the religious leader. Turkey has asked the U.S. to extradite him, a decision that will most likely fall to President-elect Donald Trump. Gulen himself has condemned Karlov’s murder.
Both Turkey and Russia are embroiled in the Syrian civil war. They have been at cross purposes — Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, backs the opposition, and Russia is allied closely with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — but relations between the two countries have improved in recent months, and leaders worked closely together in the past week to broker a tenuous deal to evacuate civilians from the last patch of rebel-held land in eastern Aleppo. Still, over the weekend, protesters gathered en masse in Turkey to decry Russia’s involvement in Aleppo.
More Syrian talks were expected Tuesday in Moscow between Turkey, Russian, and Iran, which also supports Assad. A parliamentarian in the Russian Duma said, as of right now, the discussions will continue as planned.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Karlov was “despicably killed” in an attempt to disrupt the cooperation between the Turkey and the Kremlin, reports the New York Times. Erdoğan echoed those sentiments in a video address:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also condemned the assassination, saying in a statement: “We stand ready to offer assistance to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack, which was also an assault on the right of all diplomats to safely and securely advance and represent their nations around the world.”
This post has been updated throughout.