Turkey arrests six over assassination of Russian envoy

Turkish authorities arrested six people on Tuesday over the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by an off-duty policeman, as Russia urgently sought answers over the murder.

Turkish police officers stand guard outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul on December 20, a day after the assassination of the Russian ambassador in Ankara. Yasin Akgul / AFP Photo
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ANKARA // Turkish authorities arrested six people on Tuesday over the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Ankara by an off-duty policeman, as Moscow sought answers over the murder.

With the Turkish capital already on high alert after a string of attacks this year, an individual also fired outside the US embassy in Ankara overnight in a separate incident hours after the assassination.

“We have to know who directed the hand of the killer,” declared President Vladimir Putin as the Kremlin flew an investigative team to Turkey to probe the murder.

An unprecedented three-way meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Moscow over the Syria crisis was meanwhile set to go ahead despite the killing.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot four times in the back by Turkish policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas, 22, as the diplomat opened an exhibition of Russian photography in Ankara. Dramatic images showed Karlov stumble and then crash to the ground on his back as the attacker brandished his gun at terrified onlookers who cowered behind cocktail tables.

The gunman shouted “Allahu Akbar” and then said all those responsible for what has happened in Syria and Aleppo would be held accountable.

Altintas set off the metal detector security check when he entered the exhibition in central Ankara as he was carrying a gun, reported the pro-government Sabah daily.

But after showing his police ID, he was waved through and allowed to proceed.

Hurriyet said that Altintas, who had worked for Ankara's anti-riot police for the last two and a half years, had stayed at a nearby hotel to prepare for the attack.

It said Altintas, who was off duty at the time, had put on a suit and tie and shaved at the hotel before heading to the exhibition centre.

He was killed by police after the shoot-out which lasted over 15 minutes.

Altintas was born in the town of Soke in Aydin province in western Turkey and attended a special school for training future policemen.

The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, known for his outspoken comments, speculated on his official Twitter account that the attacker may be linked to the group of Fethullah Gulen blamed for the July 15 coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

His suggestion has yet to be echoed by other officials but was repeated in the pro-government press, which claimed that Mr Gulen’s group Fethullah Terror Organisation (Feto) was behind the attack.

"An attack on friendship by treacherous Feto," said Sabah. "A bullet from Feto," added the Star daily.

Hurriyet said that authorities were investigating the assassin's possible links to the Gulen movement.

They were particularly focusing on friends Altintas may have had at the police academy, it added.

Mr Gulen denies having any link to the failed coup bid and supporters also issued a statement rejecting any connection to the attack on the Russian ambassador.

“I condemn in the strongest terms this heinous act of terror,” Mr Gulen said. “No terrorist act can be justified, regardless of its perpetrators and their stated purposes.

“It is the expectation of the Turkish people and the world that the government investigate the circumstances of this incident, identify those who aided the perpetrator and take the necessary precautions so that such an attack cannot be staged in the future.”

Hours after the assassination, an individual fired outside the main gate of the US embassy in Ankara, the mission said.

No one was hurt and the individual was detained but the embassy and consulates in Istanbul and Adana were closed for normal operations.

Karlov's killing 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.

* Agence France-Presse