Monday evening Andrey Karlov, the Russian Federation’s envoy to Turkey, was shot and killed at the opening of a photography exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center in the capital, Ankara. The exhibit was entitled “Russia through Turks’ Eyes.” In a photograph taken of Karlov only moments before his assassination, he stands behind a lectern and, just out of frame and slightly out of focus to his right, is the man the government has accused of being his assassin, the 22-year-old Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas. Neatly dressed in a dark suit, Altintas looks like he’s perhaps a security guard or even a caterer. Nothing about him betrays what he’s about to do, except perhaps for the way one hand seems to nervously tug at the other.
In a video of the assassination, Karlov can be seen collapsing to the floor. The camera then pans out and Altintas is transformed. His eyes are wild and he brandishes his pistol at the crowd, shouting first in Arabic, “God is great! Those who pledged allegiance to Muhammad for jihad. God is great!” and then in Turkish, “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria! Step back! Step back! Only death can take me from here.”
In the following days, much more will certainly be discovered about Altintas’s background and possible motives. Already, the Turkish government has raised the prospect that he has ties with the exiled cleric and perennial boogeyman Fethullah Gülen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also blamed for the unsuccessful coup d’état against his government this past July. Judging by the killer’s own words, though, the assassination was an act of retaliation against Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the fall of rebel-held positions in eastern Aleppo. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already said, “There can be only one answer to this: stepping up the fight against terrorism, and the bandits will feel this.” Around the same time that Mr. Putin made this statement, a truck driver plowed into a crowded city square in central Berlin during the Christmas Markets, killing 12 and injuring up to 50.