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Erdogan claims ambassador's killer Gulen-linked

December 21, 2016

The Turkish president claimed the killer of the Russian ambassador to Turkey is linked to Fethullah Gulen. Russia has not made any conclusions.

Bildkombo Recep Tayyip Erdogan und Fethullah Gülen
Image: Links: picture-alliance/dpa/AP/Pool // Rechts: Reuters/Handout

Erdogan links assassin to Gulen movement

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the man who killed the Russian ambassador to Turkey on Monday was a follower of exiled Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was shot nine times by off-duty police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas at an art gallery in Ankara. Altintas later died in a shootout with police.

Pro-government media reported police found pro-Gulen literature that belonged to Altintas. He also had acquaintances who were Gulen sympathizers and attended extra classes at a school associated with Gulen's group. Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

"There is no reason to hide that he's a member of the FETO (Gulenist Terrorist Network) network. All his connections, from where he was educated to his links, point to FETO," said Erdogan on Wednesday. The Turkish government calls Gulen followers a part of the "Gulen Terrorist Network."

Russia did not support the notion and warned against jumping to conclusions. "In this case it is hardly worth hurrying to any conclusions until the investigation determines – as our president said – who was behind the murder of our ambassador," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov also called the killing a "blow to (Turkey's) prestige."

Previous security details

"I have to say this very clearly – this dirty organization is still within the military, still within the police," said Erdogan.

Daily newspaper Hurriyet said Altintas served in riot police in Ankara and provided security for Erdogan eight times since the coup attempt in July. State-run media outlet Anadolu said Altintas took two sick leave days on the day of the attempted coup.

At least 11 people, including family members, have been detained in connection to Karlov's killing and are being investigated for potential Gulen links. Erdogan said Monday's assassination showed Gulen supporters were still in key security positions.

Türkei Anschlag auf russischen Botschafter
Mevlut Mert Altintas (l) assassinated the Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov to Turkey on MondayImage: picture alliance/dpa/O. Ozbilici

Turkey has cracked down on potential opponents since the attempted coup. Tens of thousands have been arrested or forced out of their jobs in the months following the failed coup. A state of emergency has been in place since the coup attempt. Turkey has also put pressure on the United States to extradite Gulen.

Karlov's body was repatriated Tuesday and will be laid to rest at a ceremony Thursday at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to attend the funeral, having posthumously honored Karlov with the Hero of the Russian Federation award, the highest military medal in Russia. According to Anadolu outlet, Altintas' body is currently in a morgue in Kecioren and his autopsy was completed. No one has claimed Altintas' body.

Opposites in Syria

Altintas shouted "don't forget Aleppo" during the shooting on Monday and vowed those responsible for the events in Syria would be held accountable.

Turkey and Russia are on opposing sides of the conflict in Syria. Russia supports the Syrian government and Turkey backs rebel forces. But the two countries are planning to work with Iran as guarantors in working on a peace deal between the Syrian government and opposition forces. A Russian investigation team arrived in Turkey Wednesday to form a joint probe with Turkish counterparts into Monday's murder. 

kbd/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

Body of slain ambassador returned to Moscow