Turkish police have detained six people over the killing of Russia’s ambassador, security sources said, widening an investigation to relatives of the off-duty policeman who shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo!” as he gunned the envoy down.
The policeman’s mother, father, sister and two other relatives were held in the western province of Aydin, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained, security sources said.
Both countries cast Monday’s attack at an art gallery in the capital Ankara as an attempt to undermine a recent thawing of ties that have been strained by civil war in Syria, where they back opposing sides. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he and Russia’s Vladimir Putin had agreed in a telephone call to strengthen cooperation in fighting terrorism.
The war, which has killed more than 300,000 people and created a power vacuum exploited by terror group ISIS, reached a potential turning point last week when Syrian forces ended rebel resistance in the northern city of Aleppo.
Russia, an ally of regime head Bashar al-Assad, supported that advance with air strikes. Karlov’s remains were sent back to Moscow from Turkey after a ceremony at the airport in Ankara.
The white, red and blue Russian flag was draped on the casket as a Russian Orthodox priest recited prayers. Turkey identified the killer as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had worked for the Ankara riot police for 2-1/2 years. Altintas, who also shouted slogans associated with Islamist militancy after shooting ambassador Andrei Karlov, was killed minutes later by members of Turkey’s special forces.
One senior Turkish security official said investigators were focusing on whether Altintas had links to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, responsible for the failed July coup. Gulen has denied responsibility for the coup and Monday’s attack and has condemned both events.
The slogans that Altintas shouted, which were captured on video and circulated widely on social media, suggested he was aligned to a radical ideology, rather than that of Gulen, who preaches a message of interfaith dialogue.
“Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria. You will not be able to feel safe for as long as our districts are not safe. Only death can take me from here,” he shouted in Turkish.