Russian ambassador to turkey shot dead in retaliation for Aleppo

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The Russian ambassador to Ankara was shot in the back and killed while giving a speech at an art gallery on Monday.

The gunman shouted:  “Don’t forget Aleppo.”

“Whoever is involved in this cruelty, one by one, you will pay for it.”

The Russian foreign ministry confirmed the death of envoy Andrei Karlov, which marked one of the most serious spillovers of the Syria conflict. Turkey has struggled with a string of attacks by Islamist and Kurdish militants but the killing of a Russian envoy could have resonance throughout the region.

Russia is a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its air strikes were instrumental in helping Syrian forces end rebel resistance last week in the northern city of Aleppo. President Tayyip Erdogan, however, has been a vociferous opponent of Assad.

“We regard this as a terrorist act,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Terrorism will not win and we will fight against it decisively.”

The attacker was smartly dressed in black suit and tie, and standing behind the ambassador as he made his speech at an exhibition, a person at the scene told Reuters.

“He took out his gun and shot the ambassador from behind. We saw him lying on the floor and then we ran out,” said the witness, who asked not to be identified.

Two security sources identified the gunman as an off-duty police officer who worked in the Turkish capital.

A Reuters cameraman at the scene said gunfire rang out for some time after the attack. The Anadolu news agency said the gunman had been “neutralised”, apparently killed.

A video showed the attacker shouting:

“Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” As screams rang out, he could be seen pacing about and shouting as he held the gun in one hand and waved the other in the air.

Another photograph showed four people including what appeared to be the ambassador lying on the floor.

Russia and Turkey have both been involved in the conflict in Syria, which borders Turkey. Turkey has been a staunch opponent of Assad, while Russia has deployed troops and its air force in support of the Syrian leader.

The US State Department, involved in diplomatic contacts with Russia in an attempt to resolve a refugee crisis unfolding around the city of Aleppo, condemned the attack.

Tensions have escalated in recent weeks as Russian-backed Syrian forces have fought for control of the eastern part of Aleppo, triggering a stream of refugees.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. Islamic State militants have been active in Turkey and carried out several bomb attacks on Turkish targets over the last year.

One of the first statements of sympathy came from the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“I was deeply shocked to hear of the inconceivable attack against Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara this afternoon. Our fullest sympathies are with his family, all his colleagues, and the Russian authorities,” said Mogherini. “The European Union condemns in the strongest possible manner this attack against your country’s representative in Turkey. We wish to express our solidarity with Russia in the face of this criminal act of violence.”

The gunman was a police officer, Turkey’s Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, has confirmed.

The officer is believed to have used his official identification to enter the art gallery, before opening fire on the ambassador as he gave a speech.

It was unclear whether he was on or off duty at the time of the shooting.

He fired at least eight shots, according to an Associated Press photographer in the audience.

The assailant was ‘neutralized’ during an operation that lasted around 15 minutes by police special forces at the scene, according to the state run Anadolu news agency.

Ankara mayor Melih Gokcek told reporters outside the exhibition centre that the “heinous” attack had aimed to disrupt newly-re-established relations between Turkey and Russia.

It came a day before a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign and defense ministers in Moscow to discuss Syria.