Following the dramatic assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov on Monday, officials in both countries have begun to speculate on the killer’s origins, with some Russian leaders pointing the finger at NATO while Turkish officials claim Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen had a hand in the killing.
While the heads of state of Turkey and Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, have both abstained from speculating regarding whether the killer was sent by a terrorist faction, officials in both countries have begun to publicly air theories on the matter. The UK Independent notes that at least two members of the Russian legislature have publicly speculated that Western powers were involved in the assassination.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a member of the Duma who has been described as “Putin’s clown in chief“… “used to float radical opinions to test public reaction,” described the assassination as “a false flag operation by the West.”
“It can be ISIS, or the Kurdish army which tries to hurt Erdogan,” Frantz Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee, said. “But may be – and it is highly likely – that representatives of foreign NATO secret services are behind it.”
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) often finds itself the target of ill sentiment in Russia. Turkish police have not claimed to have any evidence linking Karlov’s killer to the organization, however, of which Turkey is a member. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg issued a statement condemning the killing.
I condemn the killing of Russia’s amb to Turkey. My condolences to his family & Russian people. No justification for such a heinous act.
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) December 19, 2016
Citing preliminary police investigations, some officials in Turkey appear to have found an entirely different target. “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,” ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) legislator Kani Torun told Al Jazeera, referring to 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, the Turkish police officer identified as the shooter. “Accordingly, the only likely culprit for this attack is FETO [the Fethullah Gulen terrorist organization].”
“Although members of this group have been widely wiped out from the police forces. We believe, they can carry out suicide attacks like this,” Al Jazeera quotes Torun as stating.
He is not alone in making this accusation. Another official, who refused to give his name to Reuters, claimed there were “very strong signs” pointing to Gulen regarding the assassination.
Fethullah Gulen is an Islamic cleric who leads a network of charter schools in the United States and a movement known as “Hizmet,” or “service” – what Ankara calls FETO. Erdogan has repeatedly alleged that Hizmet is a terrorist group and blamed Gulen for the July 15 failed coup against his government, charges Gulen denies. Erdogan’s government has arrested, detained for interrogation, or fired upwards of 100,000 Turks, many of them police officers, in relation to the coup investigation against Gulen’s followers.
Erdogan has alleged that the United States has “no excuse” to not extradite Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania. American officials have replied that Turkey has not provided any evidence linking Gulen to the July coup attempt.
Gulen has not publicly displayed animosity towards the Russian government. The Russian state propaganda outfit Russia Today published a report on Monday with photos of Gulen’s home in Pennsylvania. While Gulen declined an interview, he used the RT visit as evidence that he had not gone into hiding after the failed coup.
Mevlut Mert Altintas has been identified as an off-duty police officer in Turkey. “Altintas was born on June 24, 1994 in Turkey’s western coastal province of Aydin… He attended the Soke Cumhuriyet Anadolu High School and is a graduate of Izmir Rustu Unsal Police Vocational School,” the state-run Anadolu Agency reported today.
In the immediate aftermath of shooting Karlov, Altintas repeatedly shouted “allahu akbar” and, in Arabic, “We’ve made an oath to Mohammed to die in martyrdom, [it is] revenge for Syria and Aleppo.”
In Turkish, he followed that statement with “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria… You won’t be safe. Only my dead body will leave here.”
Altintas kept his index finger pointed high, a sign used by Islamists, particularly the Islamic State and Muslim Brotherhood. No organization has taken credit for the assassination, though Islamists have begun to celebrate Altintas on social media.
“Attack on Russian ambassador was a provocation against the good relations that Turkey and Russia carried out in Syria,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said following the attack. Erdogan made a similar statement: “Both Turkey and Russia have the will not to be deceived by this provocation.”