Russia's ambassador to Turkey has been shot dead

RUSSIA'S ambassador to Turkey has been shot dead at an art exhibition opening in Ankara by an off-duty police officer shouting slogans about Syria's civil war.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov, 62, was several minutes into a speech when the gunman fired at least eight shots.

"Don't forget Aleppo, don't forget Syria!" the gunman shouted in Turkish.

He also shouted "Allahu akbar," the Arabic phrase for "God is great" and continued in Arabic: "We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad."

The gunman, who was shot dead by police, has been identified as 22-year-old Mevlüt Mert Altintas, 22, an off-duty member of the Ankara special forces police department.

Meanwhile, the US Security Department reported an "ongoing security incident" outside the US Embassy in Ankara, close to the gallery where Ambassador Karlov was assassinated.

Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, moments before a gunman opened fire on him. Karlov was rushed to a hospital after the attack and later died from his gunshot wounds. The gunman is seen at rear on the left.
Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, moments before a gunman opened fire on him. Karlov was rushed to a hospital after the attack and later died from his gunshot wounds. The gunman is seen at rear on the left. AP Photo - Burhan Ozbilici

HARROWING PHOTOS SHOW ASSASSINATION

Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici captured the shocking shooting as it unfolded.

Dramatic photos showed Altıntaş in a black suit holding a pistol, standing close to a podium in the gallery, its walls hung with pictures.

The gunman approached Karlov as he lay on the ground and shot him at least one more time at close range, according to the AP photographer.

The gunman gestures after shooting the Russian Ambassador, Andrei Karlov.
The gunman gestures after shooting the Russian Ambassador, Andrei Karlov. AP Photo - Burhan Ozbilici

As screams rang out, he could then be seen pacing about and shouting as he held the gun in one hand and waved the other in the air.

The attacker also smashed several of the framed photos hung for the exhibition. There was panic as people ran for cover.

Three other people were wounded in the attack, Turkey's NTV television said.

The gunman was shot dead by police after he killed the ambassador.
The gunman was shot dead by police after he killed the ambassador. AP Photo - Burhan Ozbilici

After shooting the ambassador, the gunman climbed to the second floor of the same building and a 15-minute shootout with police ensued before he was killed, Turkey's Anadolu news agency reported.

Turkish officials said Altıntaş had used his police credentials to enter the building.

The Turkish daily newspaper, Hurriyet, said Turkish special forces had surrounded the building, Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located including Russia's mission.

Terrified witnesses huddled in the art gallery as gunshots rang out.
Terrified witnesses huddled in the art gallery as gunshots rang out. AP Photo - Burhan Ozbilici

SEPARATE SHOOTING NEAR US EMBASSY AMID RISING TENSIONS

The shooting was followed just two hours later by reports of a shooting in the vicinity of the US embassy, with the US State Department warning American citizens to avoid the area.

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.

Relations between Moscow and Ankara have long been fraught over the conflict, the two supporting opposing sides.

The attack comes a day before a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign and defence ministers in Moscow to discuss Syria.

Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar Assad throughout the nearly six-year conflict, while Turkey has supported Assad's foes.

WHO WAS THE GUNMAN?

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Altintas, who was born in 1994, had been an officer with Ankara's riot police squad for more than two years.

While he was not on duty, he used his police ID to enter the gallery with a gun. He reportedly became a police officer in 2014.

Altintas' mother and sister were taken into custody after the shooting, Yeni Şafak journalist Burak Dogan said on Twitter. The gunman's roommate has also reportedly been detained.

Altinta was shot dead by police about 15 minutes after the attack.

"We are currently in contact with Turkish authorities, who are assuring us that a thorough, comprehensive investigation will be conducted," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in remarks broadcast on Russian television, according to CNN. "Murderers will be punished. Terrorism won't sustain. We'll fight it."

Minister Soylu did not give a motive for the attack.

WHO WAS AMBASSADOR KARLOV?

Karlov 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.

"It's a tragic day in the history of our country and Russian diplomacy," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments.

"Ambassador Karlov has made a lot of personal contributions to the development of ties with Turkey. He has done a lot to overcome a crisis in bilateral relations.

"He was a man who put his heart and his soul into his job. It's a terrible loss for us and also the world."

TURKEY: Russian Ambassador to Turkey Shot at Exhibition Opening in Ankara File December 19

WORLD LEADERS REACT TO HORROR SHOOTING

The Russian foreign ministry said that President Putin had called an urgent meeting with the foreign minister,

Sergei Lavrov, and the heads of the security services.

"Murderers will be punished. Terrorism won't sustain. We'll fight it," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

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. The United Nations also condemned the attack.

"There can be no justification for an attack on an ambassador ... and we very much hope that the perpetrators will be brought to justice," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Melih Gokcek, the mayor for Ankara, told reporters outside the exhibition centre that the "heinous" attack aimed to disrupt newly-re-established relations between Turkey and Russia.

Russia and Turkey have been involved in conflict in Syria across the border from where over two million Syrian refugees have settled.

Turkey has been a staunch opponent of President Bashar al-Assad while Russia has deployed troops and its air force in support of the Syrian leader.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks as Russian-backed Syrian forces have fought for control of the eastern part of the city of Aleppo, triggering a stream of refugees.

- News.com.au


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