Russian Ambassador in Ankara, Andrey Karlov, was the target of an armed attack in The Center of Modern Art in Ankara during an opening of a painting exhibition on 19 December 2016. While the Ambassador lost his life after the incident, the assailant was killed after a gunfight with the Special Forces. The exclamation of Mevlut Mert Altintas, a police officer, during the assassination being “Do not forget Aleppo or Syria!”, and his singing of the anthem “Help the oppressed, strike the cruel devils, stand upright towards the way of Allah!” were amongst the first signals which indicated that the assailant was in a radical state of mind.
However, after the assassination, the entourage of the political power in the country made contradicting and assertive statements within the first few minutes after the assassination. Columnist Abdulkadir Selvi, who is known for his affinity with AKP (Justice and Development Party), stated the following to CNN Turk right after the assassination: “Organisation links are being investigated. He shouted a slogan associated with Al-Nusra. There is a connection with Al-Nusra. This possibility is being considered right now”, and after one hour in the same television program, he said the following which was completely the opposite of what he had said earlier: “Graduate of 2014. It is a known fact that there are some graduates who are members of FETO. Considering the slogans he shouted, he had been individually educated. He wanted to look like a member of Al-Qaeda or Al-Nusra.”
Right after the assassination, at around 21:35, Melih Gokcek, Ankara Metropolitan Mayor, who had nothing to do with the investigation and could not possibly have received any information about it, tweeted the following: “The assailant is a police officer, and according to what I have heard, he is a member of FETO. The slogans of the assailant are just a perception management”. Once again, The Major of Ankara made misleading statements, just like he had about other terrorist attacks. Because Al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack. Yeni Akit newspaper, a close newspaper to the government, had tweeted “The police officer, Mert Altintas, was martyred in the attack” which was deleted after receiving many protests.
A broadcast ban was announced by the Prime Ministry very shortly after the attack. The ban included all news, footage, and comments published by all of the media institutions, except the ones provided by the official government offices. It is a widely known fact that the broadcast ban is generally announced after the operations carried out by ISIL or Al-Nusra terrorist organisations.
Al-Nusra Claimed Responsibility
Fatah Al-Sham Front, former Al-Nusra, claimed responsibility for the assassination of Ambassador Karlov with a letter they published online. The letter reads “Revenge of Aleppo”, and that Mevlut Mert Altintas, the riot police officer, was a member of the organisation (Al-Nusra).
The fact that the assailant was very calm during the incident, which could be addressed as a suicide mission, and actually carrying it out by ignoring the provisions of Islam which prohibits such actions, indicated that he was a member of one of the organisations such as ISIL, Al-Qaeda, and Al-Nusra.
According to the news published on Hurriyet newspaper, S.O., the house mate of Altintas, Al-Nusra’s gunman who killed Andrey Karlov, and another police officer, Sercan Basar, were attending the religious meetings of Nurettin Yildiz, who shared his religious views to them. These three people actually had attended such meetings many times in Etlik, and Batikent towns as well as Haci Bayram Mosque, which is acknowledged as the center of religion in Ankara, carried out by Nurettin Yildiz, who is accepted to be the advocate of Salafism. Furthermore, it was revealed that this information and further other details were put out of sight in the bill of indictment about the Ambassador Andrey Karlov. According to the special news published by Cevheri Given on MedyaBold.com, the content of the Committee of Experts Report, dated 26/01/2018, revealed the following: After the inspection carried out over the 8GB Toshiba USB with serial number 1411143A840FARGO1S, several text files, spreadsheets, image files showing Sercan Basar and Mevlut Mert Altintas, image (religious meeting files) showing Nurettin Yilmaz, who is the Head of Social Fabric Foundation, and audio files such as Chechen Anthem, and Hamas Anthem were revealed.
The inspection carried out on the personal computer of Altintas revealed a video footage titled “Al-Qaeda – you are only responsible of yourself”, which is used by Al-Qaeda to motivate their assassins and suicide bombers, who carry out attacks alone. The bill of indictment reads that Altintas had actually watched the video on YouTube, only to download it to his computer later on. It is remarkable that the video had been deleted one day prior to the assassination, however, it is more remarkable for Altintas to watch it on YouTube first, and then download the video to two different devices.
The video starts with a speech of Osama Bin Laden in the rocky mountains. “As long as we cannot live freely in Palestine, and the infidels leave our towns for good, I swear Allah, America and the people in America will not live in safety.” This sentence of Laden is very important in the beginning of the video, because it is nearly the same as the one stated by Mevlut Mert Altintas right after he killed Karlov: “As long as our towns are not safe, you will not taste safety” (meaning you will not see it neither).
For some reason, the prosecutor’s office, which prepared the bill of indictment, did not notice the radical development of Altintas, and the way he replicated the words of Bin Laden, which are in the video footage and used for the motivation of individual assailants of Al-Qaeda. Gulen Movement was under suspicion, thanks to the false accusations of AKP government, but it had disappeared in the hearing, which was held on 9 January 2019, through the registration of the courthouse. Because, Hasan Tunc, the close friend and colleague of the assailant Mevlut Altintas, stated in his defense that they are “the members of Menzil Sect, and have never been to the houses of Gulen movement”
Political Consequences Between Turkey and Al-Nusra
The Al-Nusra fact had been revealed in the tense meeting about Syria between the then Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, and the then President of the US Barack Obama in May 2013.The fact that Al-Nusra was being organised by different jihadists coming from all over the world, and the overlooking of the AKP government against this fact, and on top of that, the support of arms transferring for the Syrian civil war were amongst the reasons for the meeting to be white-knuckled. It was also revealed that Obama had told “We know what you are up to” to Hakan Fidan, Head of National Intelligence Organisation.
Erdogan to start with, the government defended Al-Nusra in many occasions. After a fighter jet of Russia was taken down by the Turkish fighter jets, Al-Nusra happened to be amongst one of the arguments. It was being questioned that nobody was objecting Russia to hit ISIL, but why was Al-Nusra a target? This was mentioned directly by Erdogan on 21 June 2016 in Ankara, when he stated “Why do you call Al-Nusra a terrorist organisation?”
Security Gaps and Contradictions
It is impossible to unveil the incident when Turkish government covers the security gaps about the assassination, and hides behind conspiracy theories after every single terrorist attack. Despite the fact that the government possesses a great propaganda mechanism, there were many contradictions revealed starting right after the assassination took place:
Despite the fact that there were hostages in the hall, and the terrorist had not possess a serious amount of weapons, why was he not captured alive?
Previously, the terrorist had been assigned to protect President Erdogan in the rallies. Everybody knows that it is very difficult to be assigned to the guarding team, somebody needs to pull some strings. Furthermore, according to the news published by Sozcu Newspaper on 30 May 2014, it was stated that some of the deputies of AKP made attempts for preferential treatment during the enrolment of students into the police academy. Throughout the last four years, despite the fact that a thorough witch hunt has been carried out for the so-called “FETO”, and tens of thousands of public workers were purged, let alone this terrorist to be given guard duty in a rally held by The President, it is not even possible for him to keep his job, and even to walk free.
A while ago before the assassination, demonstrations were held and a press release was issued by the groups such as OZGUR’DER, and IHH, which are all advocates of radical Islam, in front of the Russian Embassy and Consulate General in Istanbul and Ankara on 13 December 2016, in order to protest Russia about the Aleppo incidents. Despite the fact that there was a serious risk against Russia because of these radical groups in Turkey, there was not a single operation carried out targeting these groups which held demonstrations. Furthermore, it is obvious that no preventive intelligence work was done about the risks of the demonstrations targeting Russia.
Controversy to Russia was increasing every other day, which had started after the incident where a Russian fighter jet wash hit and taken down by TSK Air Forces on the border of Syria, and the reoccupation of the city of Aleppo in Syria by Al-Assad forces. It is obvious that there was no intelligence work done in order to see if there was a planned attack targeting the Russian diplomat, and the embassy personnel. It must be investigated that if the Russian Ambassador received this intel, if there was actually such a finding, or the impression was made,
Department of Security in the Security General Directorate, and Security Divisions in Provincial Security Directorates in service order to protect the Statesmen and Foreign Diplomats. In such a tense environment where anti-Russian demonstrations rise, and the terrorist groups holds Russia responsible for the civilian deaths in Aleppo, not taking security precautions towards the Russian Ambassador is a huge security gap.
With regards to the operations of the security forces, in a place where it is possible to have a security/terrorism incident (indoor space meetings, a visit by an important individual etc.), all safety precautions must have been taken. It is widely known that the Russian Ambassador was attacked in an “Art Gallery”. Considering the fact that the program, invitation list, and the individuals who might attend were obvious prior to the meeting, there is no explanation not to take security measures in any way. This matter must be urged upon in details.
Despite the fact that “capturing the assailant alive” was extremely crucial towards the investigation which was supposed to enlighten the incident, it is remarkable that the assailant was captured dead after an unsuccessful operation. There are further information that the request of the Russian authorities towards stopping the gunfight was left unanswered. The fact that the assailant individual was an inexperienced police officer who had been in duty for 2.5 years, and the way he was captured dead despite there was no hostage situation proves that the reaction was very unsuccessful. There was a failure towards proactive precautions, and also, the crisis was not managed successfully.
As the recent attacks carried out by ISIL and PKK in Turkey have not been enlightened, there were no significant judicial investigation carried out about the delinquent authorized individuals. However, despite there so many available details about the incidents, the government always managed to find the “guilty”one without carrying out any investigations. This is another topic to be urged upon.
The government might have wanted to consolidate its political sires by redirecting the current crisis. The assailant carried out the assassination while he was on official duty in Ankara Riot Police. This is a responsibility of the Turkish security forces. Furthermore, he started working in 2016. Meaning, during a period when the background checks were completed very carefully, and a “reference from a party member” was a must. He was on duty during a period after July 15th when people were being purged even if there was a slight suspicion about them. In other was, he was a protected police officer, this is very obvious and clear. Another point is that his address in Ankara was a fixed address, and his house mates were known. Meaning, there were plenty of evidence and contacts.
Turkey, where Radical groups grow strong
Apparently the assailant police officer, who had a “reference from a party member”, was either in touch with the radical religious groups, or was a sympathiser. All signs show Al-Nusra, the Al-Qaeda extension. The anti-democracy and anti-secular discourses of the organisations are widely known such as Al-Qaeda, and ISIL, which interpret religion ideologically and rigorously. Erdogan was often at the top of the agenda in the past with his similar anti-democracy and anti-secular speeches. In the recent years, radicalization tendencies seriously grew stronger because of this mentality of the Erdogan regime.
Even though Al-Qaeda is considered a terrorist organization by the courts of Turkey, there is a conception that does not accept this fact in different levels of the state, and Erdogan primarily. As a matter of fact, as there are so many litigation processes ongoing about ISIL, there is no adjudication towards accepting ISIL as a terrorist organisation, and Erdogan’s attitude is the reason for this. Moreover, the AKP government, led by Erdogan, established all of their policies, significantly especially after the transpiring process in Syria, on the overthrowing of Al-Asad regime, and considered this end justified the means. For this purpose, they tried various methods including arms aid to the radical groups such as ISIL, and Al-Nusra Front in Syria, which were basically derivatives of Al-Qaeda. Especially the ceasing and the reveal of the trucks, which had carried arms to ISIL, and the operation in Van, where the offices of IHH were searched, the support of the government to the radicals in Syria were revealed.
Since evidences were surfaced about the government’s relationship with the local Al-Qaeda groups, all of the police operations targeting Al-Qaeda were stopped, the radicals, who did not face any judicial process, gained more grounds in such an environment, and unrestrained, violence favouring structures flourished. One of the reasons for the situation to become destitute is the increasing influence of the radical bureaucrats and advisors over the government throughout the last two years. These radical-minded individuals filled their partisans into the staff positions, which became available after the witch hunt against the Gulen Movement. Therefore, a weak and defenseless government was originated against ISIL.
For example, during a conversation between Mustafa Varank, one of the advisors to Erdogan, and Mehmet Karakas, THY Executive Assistant, tons of goods (weapons and ammunition come out from the discussion) which would be sent to Nigeria, Karakas is heard to say “I don’t know if these materials kill Muslims or Christians”, and Varank replies that he will “speak with Hakan Fidan, Head of MIT”. Despite the fact that the ISIL supporters publish videos targeting Erdogan, this situation must be evaluated as a collusion altogether. Erdogan is being shown as the enemy in these videos, however, the purpose is to camouflage these covered relationships. There have been no actions taken by ISIL targeting Erdogan or AKP.
Arif Asalıoğlu is General Director of the International Institute of the Development of Science Cooperation in Moscow; expert in the field of Russian-Turkish relations; columnist of Informational agency REGNUM; Founder of Russian and Turkish Intellectuals Meeting.