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Gunman Who Killed Russian Ambassador Dies In Shootout With Turkish Police

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're about to hear the gunshots that killed Russia's ambassador to Turkey. He was speaking yesterday in the modern arts center in Ankara. He was in a cavernous room when a man standing behind him pulled out a gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRING)

INSKEEP: Andrei Karlov was the ambassador's name, and the killer is identified as a Turkish policeman. NPR's Peter Kenyon is covering this story from Istanbul.

Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Would you fill in some more of the details? What happened here?

KENYON: Well, the man who fired those shots we just heard has been identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, off-duty policeman assigned to the riot police. Turkish media say he apparently claimed to be part of the security detail for the event at the Ankara arts center. Video and photographs do show him standing directly behind the Russian ambassador, Andrei Karlov, as he began to deliver a speech at this photography exhibit.

After shooting the ambassador several times, he shouted in both Arabic and Turkish about Syria and Aleppo, saying things like, if killing continues there, there'll be no peace here. He said he wouldn't leave the room alive and was fatally shot by police.

INSKEEP: Wait a minute - he claimed to be part of the security detail. That's how he was able to get in there with a weapon?

KENYON: That's what we're hearing from one report. The investigation, of course, is still ongoing. That would explain one possible way that he did get in, yeah.

INSKEEP: And you said he also made a statement about Syria. How do Turkey and Russia relate to that conflict in Syria and to each other there? Remind us.

KENYON: Well, they're on opposite sides, although it has been evolving somewhat as the events have unfolded and the battlefield conditions have tipped toward the Syrian government and its Russian allies. Turkey has wanted the president, Bashar al-Assad, out of there. But they have scaled back their expectations as the Syrian and Russian bombardment has continued. Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, now says his response to this will be solely to intensify the fight against terrorism and there's not going to be a big impact on the Syria policy.

I should say that here in Turkey, there are signs of one possible response that seems aimed at deflecting attention away from the government and how this gunman got so close to the ambassador. Pro-government media here are saying the shooter was allegedly a supporter of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of backing a failed coup here last summer.

INSKEEP: OK, so pointing in a different direction than Syria then. And is there any evidence to support that claim, Peter?

KENYON: Well, it's really circumstantial. I mean, there's one article that claims the gunman requested annual leave in July, right about the time of the coup attempt. Now how that relates to a shooting in which the gunman clearly focused just on Syria hasn't been explained. Mr. Gulen, who lives in Pennsylvania, has denied having anything to do with the coup. But since July, his movement's been blamed for all kinds of things here in Turkey, so we'll see if this is added to the list.

INSKEEP: Turkey and Russia are historic rivals - historic enemies. One of them is a member of NATO. One, obviously, is not. How do they generally get along?

KENYON: Well, as you point out, they've had a series of conflicts, and none of them have really gone well for Turkey. At the moment, with the tide turning in Syria - apparently towards the regime and its Russian allies - Turkey is working hard to focus on its other goal, which is to keep Syrian Kurds from gaining any territory in northern Syria. And they seem to be focusing on that and speaking a lot less about President Assad and what they want there.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.