Multiple news services are reporting that the Russian Ambassador to the Republic of Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was murdered today by an unidentified man whose homicidal intent was apparently motivated in part by Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War.
Ambassador Karlov had been attending an photo exhibition called “Russia as seen by Turks” at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in the central Cankaya district of the Turkish capital of Ankara, when he was “shot in the back several times” by the assailant. Immediately after the shooting, the attacker began lecturing the attendees on Russia’s policy in Syria, according to the Al Jazeera news service:
“Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria,” the attacker said right after he shot down the ambassador, as seen on a video shared by Turkish media from the scene.
“Whoever took part in this cruelty will pay the price, one by one … Only death will take me from here,” the man said, while carrying a handgun.
The BBC additionally reports that the attacker also said “the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” (God is great)” during his rant.
Associated Press photos from the scene show the attacker armed with a pistol of undetermined make.
Turkish security services arrived soon thereafter and, in the words of Turkey’s state-run news service, “neutralized” the assailant in an “operation that lasted approximately fifteen minutes.”
Ambassador Karlov was taken, apparently still alive, to the nearby Guven Hospital in Ankara’s central Cankaya district, where he subsequently died of his wounds.
Let’s not mince words here: this shooting is a serious incident. The Turks and Russians are backing different sides in the Syrian war, and the Russian-backed Damascus government recently launched a generally successful (and bloody) bid to take back control over northern Syrian city of Aleppo. Last year at this time, the Russians and Turks had a bit of a row over the downing of a Russian Su-24 fighter by a Turkish Air Force F-16, but the Russians stayed their hand after exchanging a few angry words with the Turks.
Complicating all of this is the fact that Turkey is a part of the NATO alliance, and is host to a large U.S. Air Force presence at Incirlik Air Base in the south (plus a few other installations with an American presence elsewhere.) In theory, if Russia tries something against Turkey, Uncle will be committed to defending its (sometimes unreliable) ally.
World War I famously began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and European powers that automatically and unquestioningly backed their formal allies. Let’s hope we’re not heading down the same path here.
UPDATE 1: VOA News reports that the attacker was an off-duty Turkish police officer.
UPDATE 2: The attacker has been identified as Mevult Mert Altintas, who was a member of a “special operations” police force. Dean Weingarten has posted a video of the attack here.
NOTE: An earlier version of this post referenced a second shooting near the U.S. Embassy. This was incorrect; there was only one shooting incident.