- As Berlin police assume truck was deliberately driven into Christmas market
A police officer crying “Aleppo” and “revenge” shot and killed Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov during the opening of an art exhibition in Ankara Monday.
The foreign ministry in Moscow confirmed that Karlov died of his wounds in the attack, which came amid roiling tensions over the fate of Syria.
Turkish police shot and killed the gunman, a local policeman identified by authorities as Mevlut Mert Altintas, born in 1994.
Karlov was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored exhibition in the capital, Ankara, when Altintas, wearing a suit and tie and standing near him like a bodyguard, shouted “Allahu Akbar” and fired at least eight shots, according to an AP photographer in the audience.
Altintas also smashed some of the photos hung for the exhibition. There was panic as people ran for cover. NTV said three other people were wounded in the attack.
Yelling in Turkish, the gunman shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”
Altintas then yelled: “Stand back! Stand back! Only death will take me out of here. Anyone who has a role in this oppression will die one by one.”
The attack happened at the Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located including Russia’s mission.
“It happened during the opening of an exhibition,” Hurriyet correspondent Hasim Kilic, who was at the exhibition, told AFP.
“He said something about Aleppo and ‘revenge’. He ordered the civilians to leave the room. When people were fleeing, he fired again,” he added.
Turkey’s interior minister Suleyman Soylu said that Altintas had been working for the riot police squad in Ankara for the past 2 1/2 years. He was not believed to be on duty when the shooting happened.
The foreign ministry in Moscow described the incident as a “terrorist act.”
“Today in Ankara as a result of an attack the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov received wounds that he died from,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.
“We qualify what happened as a terrorist act,” she said. “The murderers will be punished.”
“Today this issue will be raised at the UN Security Council. Terrorism will not win out.”
Karlov, 62, joined the diplomatic service in 1976. He served as Russia’s ambassador to Pyongyang in 2001-2006, and later worked as the chief of the foreign ministry’s consular department. He had served as the ambassador to Turkey since 2013.
The attack 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 Aleppo.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said US officials were aware of reports about the shooting.
“We condemn this act of violence, whatever its source,” Kirby said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.”
On Tuesday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Assad’s other key ally, are slated to hold unprecedented tripartite talks on the Syria conflict in Moscow.
A Turkish official on Monday denied Ankara had forged any secret “bargain” with Moscow over the future of Syria, despite the improving cooperation that led to the deal for evacuations from Aleppo.
Turkey and Russia saw relations plunge to their worst levels since the Cold War last year when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian war plane over Syria.
In the meantime, Berlin police said on Tuesday that investigators assume the driver of a truck that ploughed into a crowd at a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring 48 others, did so intentionally in a suspected terrorist attack.
The truck crashed into people gathered around wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, which was left as a ruin after World War Two, in the heart of former West Berlin on Monday evening.
“Our investigators assume that the truck was deliberately steered into the crowd at the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz,” police said on Twitter.
“All police measures related to the suspected terrorist attack at Breitscheidplatz are progressing at full steam and with the necessary diligence,” police said.
The incident evoked memories of an attack in Nice, France in July when a Tunisian-born man drove a 19-tonne truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. That attack was claimed by Islamic State.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere had previously said there were indications that the incident in Berlin was an attack.
Police said that the man found dead in the truck was a Polish citizen but added he was not in control of the vehicle. The nationality of the suspected driver, who fled the crash scene and was later arrested, was unclear, they said.
German media cited local security sources as saying that there was evidence suggesting the arrested suspect was from Afghanistan or Pakistan and had entered Germany in February as a refugee.
Local broadcaster rbb cited security sources as saying the arrested truck driver came to Germany via Passau, a city on the Austrian border, on Dec. 31, 2015. It cited the sources as saying the man was born on Jan. 1, 1993 in Pakistan and was already known to police for minor offences.
If that is confirmed, it could further worsen sentiment towards migrants in Germany, where more than a million people fleeing conflict and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere have arrived this year and last.
The record influx has hit Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity ratings and boosted support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD). Senior AfD member Marcus Pretzell blamed Merkel for the attack on Twitter.
Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on ORF radio on Tuesday that he had told the heads of Austria’s regional police forces to intensify surveillance measures, although there was no concrete evidence that an incident was about to happen.
Sobotka also called for biometric and fingerprint checks to be introduced along the Balkan route to better control foreign jihadist fighters’ movements.
Berlin police are investigating leads that the truck had been stolen from a construction site in Poland. They have taken the truck for a forensic examination.
Times of Israel with additional report from MSN