Was the killer of the Russian ambassador silenced?
Shortly after a breaking story on the Russian news site Sputnik on Dec. 21 about the al-Nusra Front’s claiming of responsibility for the assassination of Andrey Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Ankara, on Dec 19, it was understood that the claim was fake.
Before it was understood that it was fake, I was speaking to a ranking security source who was saying that the way the claim of responsibility was made did not fit the method of al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda. “They always claim responsibility on their website, Minaret ul-Beydha [The White Minaret], not random letters like this,” the source said.
The security source, who asked not to be named, also said terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) were “after scores, the highest possible number of people that they can kill, whether it is a suicide attack or not. The Berlin attack is an example of that, they attack without discrimination. In this case, the killer’s sole target was the Russian ambassador. After he fired almost all the bullets in the cartridge of his pistol [a total of 11, with nine of them hitting the body of Karlov, according to the forensic report –MY], he asked the crowd who were there for the exhibition to leave, saying he ‘had no problem with them,’ which is not typical for the method of Salafi jihadists.”
Earlier, another source told me that “after examining the videos of the assassination and the aftermath in the building over and over again,” there was probably another person in the photograph exhibition in connection with the murderer, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a 22-year-old police officer, acting as the instructor and/or the overseer of the attack.
“Up until a moment the killer was standing there behind the ambassador like any other bodyguard policeman would do,” the source, who asked not to be named, continued. “At a certain point, he immediately moved as if he was activated, started shouting slogans and fired at the ambassador from behind. He fired more rounds into the body of his victim already lying on the floor and after making sure he was dead, the killer did not make any attempt to run from the place immediately. It was as if he had gotten some assurances from his instructor that nothing would happen to him.”
The fake responsibility claim on behalf of al-Nusra was in line with the impression the killer wanted to give. In broken Arabic, he repeated lines from the anthem of al-Nusra with his finger pointing up in the sky like a typical jihadist and said the murder was revenge for the Russian role in Aleppo. When? Hours before the Dec. 20 meeting between Turkey, Iran and Russia in Moscow to find a viable solution to Aleppo and perhaps to the future of Syria. If it was a provocation like Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin said right after the assassination, the aim could be broader than revenge for Aleppo, perhaps beyond the Moscow talks, by stepping up the level of wave of terrorism in Turkey.
The ranking security source, who has seen the profile file of the killer, said he was raised in in a social environment with a number of sympathizers of Fethullah Gülen, the Islamist preacher living in the United States, who is accused of masterminding the July 15 coup attempt, and allegedly tried to get in contact with local Salafi jihadists in Turkey. According to one witness account, he allegedly wanted to go and fight in Syria but was denied and asked to stay in the police force for better use. However, a firm connection could not be established between him and the jihadists, probably because jihadists did not trust him, thinking that he might be a police agent or an agent of the Gülenists.
Turkish security units think with “95 percent” probability that Altıntaş was recruited by Gülenists in earlier times to work in the police force and that at some stage, was asked to pretend as if he was from a different Islamist group, so as not to expose himself as a Gülenist because the cleansing of Gülenists from the state apparatus had already started in early 2014 after the graft probes of the Dec. 17-25, 2013, which were seen as a betrayal and a coup attempt by Erdoğan.
Security units are also working on the probability that the killer might have been silenced by a member of the special forces squad entering the exhibition hall building after the ambassador was shot. “The killer who was expecting that he would be saved, perhaps by a fake escape scenario after being nabbed, might have been killed by another member of the same secret organization among the special force squad.”
The picture, as of today, resembles a Russian matrushka doll, with scenarios within scenarios.
Like their Russian counterparts, Turkish officials also said it was too early to make an exact evaluation of what and who was behind the Karlov assassination. After all, joint work by Turkish and Russian security units has just started. But there is the remark of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the phone – who was complaining that the U.S. should not be accused because Gülen was living there – that both Turks and Russian believe that the probability of the Gülen network being behind the murder was high.