Ankara’s narrative on the killing of Russian envoy debunked, rights monitor says

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Gunman Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, who reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo!” as he opened fire during the exhibition, is revered as a hero by Turkish-backed rebel factions in Syria.

The Brussels-based nongovernmental organization Solidarity with OTHERS has reviewed the indictment in a trial concerning the assassination of a Russian ambassador to Turkey, presenting what they say is evidence disproving the Turkish government’s allegations that the perpetrator was a follower of the Gülen movement.

Ankara accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based organization inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a failed coup. Gülen and his followers deny the allegations, and Ankara couldn’t ensure that its long-standing allies in NATO and the West would back its version of the events that transpired on July 15, 2016, when rogue soldiers attempted a coup which killed more than 250 people.

The assassination took place five months after the coup attempt.

Andrei Karlov, who had been the Russian ambassador to Turkey since 2013, was shot dead while speaking at an art exhibit opening in the Turkish capital of Ankara in December 2016 by Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, an off-duty policeman who was killed by police at the scene moments after the assassination.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) blamed the Gülen movement for the killing, and prosecutor Adem Akıncı, who investigated the murder, claimed that Altıntaş had ties to the movement and was attempting to strain Turkish-Russian relations.

Akıncı has demanded life sentences for eight defendants in the case for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” while seeking additional jail time for five of the defendants for membership in the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government labels as a terrorist group and accuses of orchestrating the failed coup in 2016.

“The investigation procedure of the assassination case is a follow-up of the Turkish government’s mass purge, crackdown, and arrest, which hit the top following the controversial July 2016 coup attempt,” the NGO said in its October report titled “The Assassination Case of the Russian Ambassador to Turkey.”

Since the abortive putsch, Ankara has purged more than130,000 civil servants and imprisoned in excess of 80,000 citizens over links to the Gülen movement despite the fact that both Gülen and members of the movement strongly deny any role in it.

The NGO said the Turkish judiciary is under the influence of the ruling AKP considering its decisions before and after the 2016 coup attempt, which include the acceptance as reasons for pretrial detention of such activities as using the ByLock mobile phone app, studying or working legally in schools or courses affiliated with the Gülen movement, possessing a book by Fethullah Gülen or magazine featuring articles written by him and sharing content in favor of the Gülen group.

The report states that the prosecution ignored the radicalization of Altıntaş, his connection to certain radical groups and the possibility that some radical groups might have masterminded the murder.

The gunman reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “Don’t forget Aleppo!” as he opened fire during the exhibition, apparently referring to Russia’s involvement in Syria. Turkish media reports based on solid evidence showed that the police officer was among the attendees of a study circle led by radical Islamist preacher Nurettin Yıldız, a staunch supporter of President Erdoğan.

It was also previously reported that Altıntaş, who was employed as a police officer, was awarded 30 bonuses by the AKP government in the two-and-a-half-year period before the assassination.

“An anti-organized crime department of the Turkish police response to the prosecution indicates that the security units found no relation between Altıntaş and his immediate family with the Gulen movement,” the NGO underlined, adding that the prosecution has no hard data showing that Altıntaş was contacted by the people whom the indictment alleges convinced him to kill the ambassador.

The human rights monitor further said that Altıntaş was still working for the police department at the end of 2016, by which time the Turkish government had purged tens of thousands of police officers deemed to be members of the Gülen movement, even those who only had contact with people from the movement as work colleagues, before and after the 2016 coup attempt.

Solidarity with OTHERS also argued that Altıntaş could have been taken alive, but the police killed him with 13 shots, which raises the the question of whether there were parties in power who did not want him to testify and therefore keep the most crucial evidence from coming to light.

The NGO pointed to the statement included in the indictment of a police officer who participated in the operation, saying that the police officers realized Altıntaş was alive after he was shot and fell to the ground. According to the statement he was subsequently shot until they were sure he was dead, although an officer had kicked Altıntaş’ gun away before realizing he was still alive.

The police reasoning for the killing of Altıntaş was reportedly that “he could be a suicide bomber,” with the prosecutor saying in the indictment that “even if the murderer had been captured alive, he would not have given any information.”

Solidarity with OTHERS underlined that Russia not investigating Karlov’s killing in parallel with Turkey, targeting the Gülen movement, despite the countries’ strategic cooperation in recent years, shows that Moscow seems not to have given any credence to Turkey’s theory of the case.

“The Gulen movement has been left defenseless in Turkish courts, and it has been the target of a massive media smear campaign and censorship. The judiciary has been acting in favor of the rulers of the country. The Turkish government aims to use the Karlov murder as an argument to oppress Gulenists abroad, who have been blacklisted and jailed in Turkey. It is most likely that Ankara will prepare refoulement or red bulletin files over Karlov murder to crackdown the on the group outside of the country,” the NGO concluded in its review.

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