A Turkish policeman crying “Aleppo” and “Allahu Akbar” shot dead Russia’s ambassador to Turkey at an art exhibition in Ankara on Monday, in what Moscow termed a “terrorist act”.
Andrei Karlov died of his wounds after the shooting, which occurred on the eve of a key meeting between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers on the Syria conflict.
Dramatic television footage showed the man — dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie — waving a gun and gesturing in the air at the Ankara exhibition hall where the veteran diplomat was opening a show of Russian photographs.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said the gunman had been “neutralised” in a police operation inside the hall after 15 minutes of clashes.
“Today in Ankara as a result of an attack the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov received wounds that he died from,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.
“We qualify what happened as a terrorist act,” she added. “The murderers will be punished.
“Today this issue will be raised at the UN Security Council. Terrorism will not win out,” she added.
The mayor of Ankara Melih Gokcek identified the attacker as a Turkish policeman. The Yeni Safak daily said on its website that the attacker — named as M.M.A. — worked with anti-riot police in Ankara.
Gokcek, known for his outspoken comments, speculated on his official Twitter account that the policeman may be linked to the group of Fethullah Gulen blamed for the July 15 coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
VIDEO: Moment Russian Ambassador Karlov shot at art exhibition pic.twitter.com/JFuaeXhW7J
— Ann Kirton Langley (@AnnEnglishRose) December 19, 2016
The incident came after days of protests in Turkey over Russia’s role in Syria, although Moscow and Ankara are now working closely together to evacuate citizens from the battered city of Aleppo.
The United States condemned the attack, while British ambassador Richard Moore paid tribute to a “quietly spoken, hospitable professional.”
Erdogan phoned Putin to brief him about the attack, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said.
– ‘People fleeing’ –
The shooting took place at the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located including Russia’s mission.
“It happened during the opening of an exhibition,” Hurriyet correspondent Hasim Kilic, who was at the scene, told AFP.
“When the ambassador was delivering a speech, a tall man wearing a suit, fired into the air first and then took aim at the ambassador,” said Kilic.
“He said something about Aleppo and ‘revenge’. He ordered the civilians to leave the room. When people were fleeing, he fired again,” he added.
Images showed the ambassador standing up to speak at a lectern at the opening of an photo exhibition called “Russia from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka” showing images from Russia’s far west to its far east.
He stumbles and then crashes to the ground after being shot, lying flat on his back as the besuited attacker brandishes the gun at terrified onlookers.
The man shouts “Allahu Akbar” (“God is greatest”) and then talks about pledging allegiance to jihad in Arabic, the images showed.
Switching to Turkish, he then says: “Don’t forget about Syria, don’t forget about Aleppo. All those who participate in this tyranny will be held accountable”.
– ‘Crucial meeting’ –
Protesters in Turkey have held Moscow responsible for human rights violations in Aleppo with thousands turning out for protests outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul.
But political relations have warmed, with intense contacts between the two sides in recent days to ease the situation in Aleppo.
Turkey and Russia saw relations plunge to their worst levels since the Cold War last year when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian war plane over Syria.
They stand on opposite sides of the Syria conflict with Ankara backing rebels trying to topple Moscow ally President Bashar al-Assad.
But the rhetoric has warmed considerably since a reconciliation deal was signed earlier this year and a Russian and Turkish-brokered accord has helped the evacuation of citizens from Aleppo in the last days.
The attack comes a day before Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Assad’s other key ally, were to hold unprecedented tripartite talks on the Syria conflict in Moscow.
The Syrian foreign ministry in Damascus denounced the murder as a “despicable crime”, state news agency SANA said.
Cavusoglu learned of the news while on the plane to Moscow, Turkish television said.
A Turkish official on Monday denied Ankara had forged any secret “bargain” with Moscow over the future of Syria, despite the improving cooperation that led to the deal for evacuations from Aleppo.
Born in 1954 in Moscow, Karlov was a career diplomat who had began his career under the USSR in 1976. He was Russian ambassador to North Korea from 2001-2006.