Updates at bottom of article:
Given all the time we spend talking about Turkish politics and the ascent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to essentially dictator status, I probably don’t need to tell you how bad this might be. Erdogan has been cozying up to Vladimir Putin for months now and working on several avenues of cooperation. And now Russia’s ambassador has been shot and killed at an art gallery in Ankara. (The Guardian)
The Russian ambassador to Ankara was seriously wounded on Monday in a gun attack at an art gallery in the Turkish capital and was taken to hospital, Turkish media has reported.
The unconfirmed reports said Andrei Karlov was attending the opening of an exhibit at a contemporary arts centre when he was attacked. Hurriyet newspaper said he had been taken to hospital with serious injuries.
Hurriyet’s Daily News said sources at the Russian embassy had confirmed the attack, while CNN Türk said several more people were injured.
There are some quick reports coming in on this and one of them is this tweet from MSNBC’s Jesse Rodriguez which allegedly shows a photo of the gunman standing over the scene of the shooting.
AP photo of gunman in Russian Ambassador attack in Turkey pic.twitter.com/PvaqMU6WeP
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) December 19, 2016
So who was this guy? Haaretz is reporting that some details are known. For one thing, the guy was dressed up well, had a (presumably fake) police ID and was shouting a familiar phrase when he attacked.
Karlov was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored photo exhibition in the capital when a man wearing a suit and tie shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots, according to an AP photographer in the audience. The attacker also said some words in Russian and smashed several of the photos hung for the exhibition.
A Reuters witness said that while gunfire rang out for some time after the attack, it had now stopped. A Hurriyet newspaper reporter said the attacker chanted Islamist slogans, including allegedly saying that the shooting was “revenge for Aleppo.”
CNN Turk reported that the gunman entered the gallery with a police ID and opened fire on the ambassador as he made a speech. CNN Turk is reporting that a brief hostage situation has ended after special forces entered the building, adding that Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu is at the scene.
Okay, so assuming all of this is accurate, the attacker was shouting Allahu Akbar and talking about it being revenge for Aleppo. That makes it sound like ISIS. But he also… speaks Russian? And he’s moving around Turkey easily with a police badge?
I’m not ruling it out, but color me skeptical. We can’t discount the possibility that it could be an ISIS fighter but the lone gunman model taking out a single, high value diplomatic target isn’t really the typical approach taken by ISIS. If the art gallery had been blown up or dozens of people were gunned down or hit with machetes, sure. I’d go with that. But this looks like an assassination.
I think we still can’t rule out the possibility that this was the PKK or someone sympathetic to them. If the Kurdish extremists really wanted to cause trouble for Erdogan, gunning down Russia’s ambassador would have looked like a pretty tempting option. And I’m sure they’re not thrilled about their aspiring tyrant’s close ties and strong support from Russia. The other option, if we want to go all Tom Clancy on the situation, is to say that somebody else did the deed so it could be pinned on the Kurds, but that’s getting way off into tinfoil hat territory.
No matter the explanation, I’d expect the result will be the same. I can easily picture this being a situation where Erdogan figures out a way to blame it on the Kurds and it would serve as yet another excuse for him to crack down on them, round up dissidents and start executing people to show his new friends in Moscow how seriously he’s taking the attack. And if a possible external threat from Russia as a response is played up in the media, Erdogan could further solidify public support for his purge.
We’ll revisit this story when we know more.
UPDATE: (Jazz) We have confirmation from Turkish media that the ambassador died either on the way to or after arriving at the hospital. Also, there is video of Karlov being shot and the gunman waving his gun around and giving a short speech. It’s embedded in this tweet which you can click through to if you like, but I offer this with the obvious warning that this is EXTREMELY GRAPHIC FOOTAGE of a guy getting murdered. I won’t embed it here.
The shooter has been identified. As I suspected, he’s not sounding like ISIS. He’s actually a 22 year old special forces cop from Ankara named Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş.
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) December 19, 2016
Nobody is declaring whatever affiliations he might have at the moment but if he’s not associated with the Kurds you can knock me over with a feather.