We’ve learned a bit more about the man who assassinated the Russian ambassador to Turkey since the last time I was able to post. He was apparently an off-duty Ankara police officer named Mevlut Mert Altıntaş, who shouted “God is great!” and “don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” during the attack. I have to say the images taken during this attack, owing to the fact that it was conducted during a public event with a lot of media present, are some of the most chilling things I’ve ever seen. In my last post I shared one, via Twitter, of the immediate aftermath of the shooting, and I just saw this one of the moment right before the shooting:
I mean, holy shit. There’s also video of the actual shooting, but I think I’ll make you go find that.
Both Ankara and Moscow are responding to this attack by blaming “terrorists,” whomever they may be, and that’s good because it means they’re not blaming each other. I gather that some people are still worried that this assassination was Franz Ferdinand v2.0, but the official line out of both Russia and Turkey is that this was some kind of craven attempt to sow discord in their relationship and that the two countries are united in their desire to find and punish those responsible. I don’t think that interpretation is all that likely either. I mean, I guess whoever carried out this assassination might have had some hope that it might cause a break in the Russia-Turkey relationship, but I doubt they were naive enough to believe that it would. Straight-up revenge seems like the far more likely motive.
Neither Russia nor Turkey wants to come to blows over this and so it’s exceedingly unlikely that they will. Foreign Policy offered a list of possible Russian responses against Turkey if Moscow were to decide to make things adversarial, and it’s a good list but I don’t see things going down this road. Over a longer term it’s possible that there could be some deterioration in the relationship–if, say, Ankara uses this attack as an excuse to beat up on its favorite hobby horse (either the Kurds or the Gülen movement) and Moscow begins to feel like the investigation/response isn’t being carried out in good faith–but that’s still a long shot. This is a major black eye for Turkey and for Tayyip Erdoğan, but it’s not one that can be fixed with bluster, and I wouldn’t expect Ankara to do anything other than pursue a serious investigation.
Yes, OK, it is true that the Turks are investigating Altıntaş for possible links to Gülen, but it’s early in the process and, hey, there could actually be a link. The Gülen movement made inroads into the police and military when it was at its most active, so it’s not unreasonable that Turkish authorities would at least consider the possibility. It’s unlikely that there’s a link there, however; Gülen has staunchly opposed Erdoğan’s efforts to support the Syrian rebels and topple Bashar al-Assad, so the idea that one of his followers would assassinate the Russian ambassador over a major rebel defeat stretches credulity. It’s possible that someone in the Gülen movement is just trying to poison the Ankara-Moscow relationship by any means necessary, but as I said about the Kurds earlier, that’s an awful big risk to take to achieve an end that’s a) pretty unlikely and b) would be of questionable value anyway.
The attack in Ankara is but one of three major terrorist or possible terrorist attacks that took place today. There was also an incident in Berlin that looks a lot like what happened in Nice in July in all but (thankfully) body count:
A truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday evening, killing nine people and injuring 45 others, in what Germany’s interior minister said looked like an attack.
Police said on Twitter that they had taken one suspect into custody and that another passenger from the truck had died as it crashed into people gathered around the wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church in the heart of former West Berlin.
The nationality of the suspected driver, who fled the crash scene and was later arrested, was unclear, police said.
Not much yet to say about this apart from the fact that it sure does look a lot like Nice.
In the third incident, a gunman entered a mosque in Zurich and shot three people before taking off. Police later found a body nearby but it’s not clear if the two things are connected and certainly there’s no reason to think it’s the shooter’s body. The mosque is popular with the city’s Somali community. Again there’s little to say about this attack because little is known, but it certainly seems possible that somebody was trying to make a political statement.
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