Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the assassination of Russia’s ambassador earlier this week was “no doubt” carried out by a member of the network of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.
“There is no need to make a secret out of the fact he was a member of FETO,” Erdogan said at a news conference, using Ankara’s preferred acronym for the group run by the U.S.-based preacher and political figure.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call earlier this week that Turkey believes the killer is linked to Gulen, whom Ankara also blames for being July’s failed coup in Turkey.
But Wednesday’s news conference marked the first time the president had publicly made the claim of Gulen’s connection to Monday’s assassination of Andrei Karlov at a photo exhibit in the Turkish capital.
Gulen condemned the attack earlier this week, and the United States has rejected what it called “absolutely ridiculous” suggestions that it was involved in or supported the assassination because of Gulen’s presence in the U.S.
Turkey has been demanding Gulen’s extradition from the U.S.
Russia said earlier Wednesday it is too early to draw conclusions about the shooter responsible for Karlov’s assassination.
Karlov was shot byMevlut Altintas, a 22-year-old Turkish off-duty police officer who is believed to have gained access to the exhibit by using his badge. A witness told VOA that during the shooting Altintas shouted: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria! As long as our lands aren’t safe, you will not be safe!”
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday there should be no rush to conclusions before a joint investigation of the assassination is complete.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that Secretary Kerry raised concerns about “some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey” in his call with Cavusoglu.
“We need to let the investigators do their job,” ” Kirby told reporters. “And we need to … let the facts and the evidence take them where it is before we jump to conclusions. But any notion that the United States was in any way supportive of this or behind this or even indirectly involved is absolutely ridiculous.”
Karlov’s body arrived in Moscow on Tuesday, accompanied by his widow.
Cavusoglu said on Twitter the street outside the Russian embassy in Ankara will be named after Karlov. The Turkish foreign minister was in Moscow Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and the two diplomats laid flowers next to portrait of Karlov.
“Turkish people are mourning this loss as much as Russia and the people of Russia,” Cavusoglu said.
Cavusoglu, Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met in Moscow to discuss the Syrian crisis, and according to Lavrov, they agreed to facilitate a deal between the Syrian government and the opposition.
Both Russian and Turkish leaders have said the assassination will not divide them. Analysts say they do not see the killing driving a wedge in Russia-Turkey relations.
“For a while now, Turkey and Russia had agreed on many issues in northern Syria, including evacuation of civilians from eastern Aleppo, and this convergence could be undermined by the assassination attempt but I think that will not happen,” said TWI Turkish Research Program Director, Soner Cagaptay.
“At this stage for Russia to act aggressively on this assassination issue would mean that Russia would lose what it has,” he told VOA Turkish. “So I think … Turkey will respond by running a thorough investigation of the assassination.”
“Russia has been giving Turkey the benefit of the doubt because of the broader interests developing the region regarding Syria and Iraq,” said political columnist Semih Idiz of the Al Monitor website.
“As you see now, Russia has brought Turkey to its side,” he added. “It’s trying to capitalize on the deepening division between Turkey and the West, and it sees an advantage in this and it would not want to endanger at this moment in time.”
Captured on video
Ambassador Karlov was making a speech at the opening of an art exhibition as the well-dressed gunman stood on the side of the stage, leading many in the audience to assume he was a bodyguard. The entire scene was captured on video.
Three other people were wounded before security officers shot the gunman dead. Ambassador Karlov died at a hospital. He had been Russia’s ambassador to Turkey since 2013.
Six people have reportedly been detained in connection with the investigation, including the shooter’s’ roommate, parents and other relatives.
Mehtap Colak Yilmaz of VOA Turkish contributed to this report.