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Assassination in Turkey: what we know so far

Russia’s ambassador to Ankara was shot dead in a brazen attack by a Turkish policeman at the opening of a photography exhibition on Monday in what both sides branded an “act of terror.”

The assassination, by a gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo”, came after days of protests in Turkey over Russia’s role in Syria and on the eve of a unprecedented meeting of the foreign ministers of Turkey, Russia and Iran on the conflict.

Here is what we know so far:

– The attack –

Dramatic footage showed the moment the lone gunman — dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie, shot his target in the back as the envoy spoke at the opening of the Russian photography exhibition.

The assailant was seen standing behind the ambassador and after opening fire he swaggered and pointed his automatic handgun aggressively into the air.

He shouted “Allahu Akbar” and spoke in Arabic about pledging allegiance to jihad.

He then switched to Turkish, shouting: “Don’t forget about Syria, don’t forget about Aleppo. All those who participate in this tyranny will be held accountable.”

The gunman was killed in a police operation after a 15-minute standoff when he refused to surrender.

– The policeman –

The gunman was identified by the Turkish interior minister as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had worked in the Ankara anti-riot police squad for the last two-and-a-half years.

He was off duty but managed to get through the security controls by flashing his police identity card.

Several members of his family, including Altintas’s mother, father and sister, were detained for questioning at their homes in western Turkey.

Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek and pro-government press speculated the policeman may be linked to the group of exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for the July coup aimed at toppling President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkish media reports said police are questioning former acquaintances to see if Altintas was sympathetic towards Gulen.

Gulen however issued a statement, firmly condemning the attack.

– The target –

The slain ambassador, Andrei Karlov, was a veteran career diplomat who helped weather rocky ties between Moscow and Ankara.

The 62-year-old was appointed to Ankara in 2013, a time when the two countries were seeking to boost trade despite deep differences over the Syria conflict.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the ambassador’s killing as a “tragic day in the history of our country and our diplomatic service”.

The married father of one spent a large chunk of his career — which stretched back to the Soviet period — working on the volatile Korean peninsula, in both Seoul and Pyongyang.

Karlov was the first ambassador to be assassinated in the history of modern Turkey. The British consul was killed in an Istanbul bombing in 2003 and Israel’s consul general in Istanbul was kidnapped and shot dead by leftist militants in 1971.

– The timing –

The shooting came on the eve of a crucial meeting between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian foreign ministers on the Syrian conflict.

At the moment of the attack, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was on a plane flying to Moscow for Tuesday’s talks, which are going ahead as planned.

Moscow and Ankara remain on opposite sides of the conflict — with Turkey backing rebels trying to topple Russia’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.

Protesters in Turkey have held Moscow responsible for rights violations in war-wracked Aleppo, with thousands massing outside the Russian consulate in Istanbul.

Diplomatic relations between Ankara and Moscow sank to their worst levels since the Cold War in November last year when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian war plane over Syria.

But relations have since warmed, with intense contacts in recent days that led to a deal for evacuations from Aleppo.

Erdogan swiftly called President Vladimir Putin and both countries described the killing as a “provocation”, insisting it would not be allowed to cast a shadow over ties.