In a telephone conversation Monday, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu reportedly told his American counterpart John Kerry that the policeman who killed Russian Ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov that day was tied to the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, and that Russia agreed with Turkey’s conclusion.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official told reporters that Cavuşoğlu insisted “both Russia and Turkey know that FETÖ [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization] was behind the attack and shared information regarding the assailant.” Hurriyet notes that Kerry requested the conversation to receive word regarding a meeting between Turkish officials and Russian and Iranian diplomats to discuss the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Despite Cavuşoğlu’s assurances that Russia was as convinced as the Turkish government that the cleric Gulen organized the assassination, Kremlin spokesman Dimitri Peskov did not echo his sentiments at his daily press briefing Wednesday. “We need to wait for results of a joint investigative group. You shouldn’t be in a rush to make conclusions until the investigation identifies who was behind the murder of our ambassador,” he told reporters.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin has abstained from public speculation regarding the killing, those Russian politicians who have targeted a culprit appear to have generally accused “the West” of this crime. Duma representative Vladimir Zhirinovsky, for example, called the attack “a false flag operation by the West,” while Frantz Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee, said it was “highly likely” that NATO had organized the event.
In Turkey, the government has clearly concluded a link between the assassin, 22-year-old Mevlüt Mert Altintas, and Gulen. Newspapers favorable to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have begun to speculate, meanwhile, that the United States ordered the attack through Gulen, who runs a series of Islamic charter schools from his Pennsylvania residence. Yeni Safak, a pro-Erdogan tabloid, has been the loudest in attacking America for killing Karlov, boasting a headline on its Tuesday front page calling Altintas one of “the CIA’s FETO assassins.”
“The CIA’s/FETO’s assassin… fired his gun to open a new rift between Turkey and Russia,” writes Tamer Korkmaz in Yeni Safak. “The American state, which for five years was ‘fighting’ [Assad], actually made a great effort to keep the dictator Assad’s regime intact.”
Unsurprisingly, Yeni Safak has also claimed that Russian officials agree with that conclusion.
Secretary of State Kerry reportedly demanded the Turkish government condemn these accusations. “The Secretary in his conversation with the foreign minister did raise his concerns about some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey with respect to American involvement/support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “It’s a ludicrous claim, absolutely false, there’s no basis of truth in it whatsoever, and the Secretary made that very clear in his discussions today with the foreign minister.”
Kirby refused to offer any suggestions as to who may have inspired Altintas, urging reporters and other observers to “let the investigators do their job.”
“But any notion that the United States was in any way supportive of this or behind this or even indirectly involved is absolutely ridiculous,” he concluded.
Gulen himself has denied any involvement in the attack. “No terrorist act can be justified, regardless of its perpetrators and their stated purposes,” the cleric said in a statement. “I condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of terror.”
Turkey’s main evidence that Gulen had ties to Altintas involves the policeman’s uncle, who worked at a Gulen school in Turkey before being dismissed after the failed coup. Police also claim that Altintas possessed both Gulenist and Al-Qaeda literature in his home, and had been previously investigated for ties to Gulen. Investigators did not find enough evidence to dismiss him, however, and he remained on the force until his death Monday.
Altintas killed Karlov while the ambassador was giving a speech at an art exhibition Monday. After shooting Karlov, Altintas began to shout “allahu akbar” and referred to the attack as “revenge” for the Russian military operation in Aleppo, Syria in broken Arabic, stating, “we die in Aleppo, you will die here.” Altintas later said in Turkish he would not leave the premises alive before engaging in his ultimate gunfight with police.