The murder that shocked the world is over. The attempts to turn that assassination into a geopolitical weapon have only just begun.”>
ISTANBULHe may have hollered Allahu Akbar before he perpetrated his act of murder. He may have cried out for retaliation for Moscows bombing of Syria. But some in the Turkish government and the Russian press are portraying the young policeman who assassinated Russias ambassador to Turkey on Monday as no mere jihadist. Instead, he is being painted as a devotee of an Islamic cleric living in American exile. And the crime, which a mere 24 hours earlier threatened to tear Russia and Turkey apart, is abruptly being spoken of as some sort of Western-connected plot.
The end result of this tragedy could well be a strengthening of Turkish-Russian ties at the expense of Ankaras longer and strategically important relationship with Washington, a relationship that has suffered greatly since the start of the Syria crisis and merely worsened after a failed takeover endeavor against the ruling Turkish government last July.
Mevlet Mert Altintas, age 22, was filmed pulling the trigger of his semiautomatic handgun and killing Ambassador Andrey Karlov at the opening of a photo exhibition in Ankara Monday evening. After shooting the diplomat at close range, Altintas launched into a Turkish language denunciation of Russias bombing of civilians in Aleppo, combined with an Arabic pledge to pursue jihad. His wails of Allahu Akbar, or God is great, has already led some, including U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, to describe the murderer as an Islamic extremist.
But it may not be that simple.
When Turkish police raided Altintass apartment, they said, they found volumes about al-Qaeda but also about Fethullah Glen, an Islamic cleric who lives in American self-exile. Glen has never been associated with violenceuntil, that is, it was accused of using loyalists in the Turkish air force and military to try and seize power in the summer, including a botched attempt to capture Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his erstwhile political friend .( Theres some legitimacy to these charges .)
Glens role in the takeover has been a major point of contention between Ankara and Washington, with Erdogan demanding his extradition and sensationalist pro-government outlets in Turkey, such as newspaper Yeni Safak, ran in so far as to accuse Glen, who has been domiciled in the Poconos of Pennsylvania since 1999, of being a CIA asset and therefore acting at the behest of the U.S. government, the putative mastermind of the botched coup.
It did nothing to mitigate this conspiracy theory that U.S. President Barack Obama took weeks before he called Erdogan to express his support, whereas Russian President Vladimir Putin phoned his Turkish counterpart offering unwavering solidarity, as one leader to another, merely a day after the putschists were put down. That message, coupled with Erdogans apology for the Turkish Air Forces shoot-down of a Russian fighter airplane in November 2015, ran a long way toward repairing severely injury closer relations between Russia and Turkey, which had included a suspension of tourism, commercial andtrade ties.
Turkey is now reeling from a wave of violence comingfrom four different directionstwo terror attacks attributed to Kurdish separatists in 10 days, military operations in Syria against Islamic Sate radicals whove also assaulted civilian targets here, the mid-July takeover endeavor, and the first ever assassination of a foreign ambassador. Erdogan has repeatedly attempted to lump the Islamist and Kurdish violence together with the takeover attempt to a skeptical populace but Mondays assassination may provide a first sketchy basis to his claim.
In another episode of violence, a gunman approached a gate of the U.S. embassy in Ankara in the early hours Tuesday and fired several rounds from a semi-automatic weapon. He was detained and its not clear if there was any connection with the assassination of Karlov, which took place at an exhibition hall across the street from the embassy.
Altintas has now been reported by several news organizations as the graduate of local schools run by the Glen movement, to prepare students for high school, college and police academy entrance exam. It sounds innocuous, but the Turkish government has obtained numerous statements by former alumnus about how administrators procured the response to quizs from contacts within the testing organisations, and distributed them to pupils in advance.
The government here maintains that the prep schools are the vehicles the Glen movement used to place its adherents throughout the Turkish army, security services, courts and prosecutors offices. Altintass uncle, who police briefly incarcerated Monday, was an administrator in Glen schools.
Altintass travels in mid-July also evoked suspicions.
On the eve of the takeover, which took place July 15, he bought an air ticket from Diyarbakir, where he was stationed, to Ankara, and requested a leave for several days beginning July 16. As the takeover unraveled, police cancelled all leave, but Altintas traveled anyway, according to the Turkish Interior Ministry.
His superior officer, identified as Kahraman Sezer, was arrested after the takeover for alleged links with the Glen movement. Altintas also was suspended from serving in early October, but reinstated six weeks later.
Glen, who lives a reclusive life and rarely talks to the media, issued a statement late Monday U.S. hour, which condemned the assassination as a heinous act of terror, but his aides declined to comment on the timing.