New evidence links exiled Turkish cleric to Russian envoy’s assassin

People lay flowers in front of the statue depicting assassinated Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov during a commemoration ceremony on the first anniversary of his death at Russian Embassy in Ankara, Dec.19, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2017
0

New evidence links exiled Turkish cleric to Russian envoy’s assassin

ANKARA: A year after the assassination in Ankara of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, new evidence has emerged linking the murderer to the exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.
Andrey Karlov was shot dead on Dec. 19 last year as he delivered a speech at a photography exhibition. The assassin, Mevlut Mert Altintas, a police officer, was killed by security officers at the scene.
Altintas shouted in Arabic before he opened fire, suggesting a link to a militant group such as Daesh or Al-Qaeda. However, the chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara believes the shout was deliberately misleading, and intended to conceal the real motives for the murder.
Now Russian analysts have found files on the assassin’s laptop hard drive that refer directly to Gulen, as well as 690 references to the Gulen Hizmet (service in Turkish) and to Nur Cemaati, as Gulen is referred to by his supporters. They found no references to Daesh, Al-Nusra or Al-Qaeda.
Turkish and Russian intelligence services have been conducting a joint investigation into the assassination. The computer hard drive was initially examined by Turkish authorities, but they were unable to recover deleted files. Russian experts tried an alternative method, and recovered the files.
However, analysts have been unable to find the assassin’s social media posts and emails. He deleted them using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), with an IP address supplied by a US company, Express VPN, which does not keep logs.
Turkish authorities said the assassin was linked to a plot leader through ByLock, an encrypted smartphone messaging app widely used by Gulen supporters. Altinbas changed his mobile phone number a month before the murder.
Turkey has long believed that Gulen, who lives in exile in the US, was ultimately responsible for the ambassador’s murder. Ankara also believes the cleric and his network were behind last year’s failed attempt to depose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a coup.
More than 30 people have given evidence in connection with the ambassador’s murder, and four people have been arrested.
“Russian officials have said that Turkish investigators are cooperating with the Russian side to the fullest extent,” Timur Akhmetov, a researcher at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.
That the Russian leadership has invested so much effort in developing relations with Turkey despite several obstacles suggests that Moscow trusts Ankara and believes the crime will be solved in the proper way, Akhmetov said.
Dr. Eray Gucluer, a terror expert from Altinbas University in Istanbul and at the think tank ASAM, said the assassination was an attempt to break Turkish-Russian ties, and was devised by a network transcending the two countries.
“In line with a pre-designed scenario, the hit man was put into contact with groups linked to Al-Qaeda just a couple of months before the assassination. However, he had harshly criticized those groups in his social media postings,” Gucluer told Arab News.
“Moscow considered this assassination as an operation firstly against itself, and then a provocation against its rapprochement with Ankara. Putin never used blaming rhetoric against Turkey.”
Russia closed all Gulen-linked schools in February 2006, which might have triggered vengeance from the group, he said.

Gucluer said the successful handling of the investigation would reassure countries with diplomatic missions in Ankara that Turkey took all necessary security steps to protect diplomats.


Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

Updated 36 min 29 sec ago
0

Taliban to quit peace talks if US troops are not pulled out of Afghanistan

  • The threat came as US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process
  • Khalilzad is meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process

KABUL: The Taliban said on Tuesday they would call off peace talks with the US if its troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan. The threat came as the US special envoy landed in Kabul.

Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul to brief the government and politicians on his engagement in the region regarding the peace process.

Last month, it was reported that President Donald Trump had ordered the withdrawal of thousands of troops. 

But there has been speculation the US wants to keep some military bases in Afghanistan, and that it is pushing the Taliban to hold direct talks with Kabul.

The Taliban has objected to government involvement in its meetings with Khalilzad and wants foreign troops to leave Afghanistan.

The armed group said the US must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it would be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until its “unlawful pressures and maneuvering” ended. 

“The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in November to discuss the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and prevent Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said, accusing the US of “backing out from that agenda and unilaterally adding new subjects.”

The US Embassy in Kabul said Khalilzad was meeting President Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah, and political leaders to discuss the next steps in efforts to support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

His arrival in Kabul followed stops in India, the UAE and China.

Mohammad Akbari, one of those at the meeting, said Khalilzad had expressed optimism about his efforts and regional cooperation but had not revealed why he was so hopeful.

Khalilzad later tweeted about the “good session” in Kabul.

“We discussed the peace process & all agree that progress depends on Afghans sitting with each other, negotiating a future for all Afghan people,” he said.

The US Embassy said the goal was to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen “enjoyed equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law.” 

Ahmad Zia Rafat, a political science professor, said peace talks in a normal country faced ups and downs but there would be more hurdles when it came to Afghanistan because of the war’s complexity. 

“We had 40 years of war so one should not expect a quick resolution of the crisis. The first priority for peace is for Afghanistan and Pakistan to settle their historical differences,” he told Arab News.

“If you have consensus in a realistic manner between these two countries, then you are depriving the Taliban from a key supporter, long believed to be Pakistan. Then you can forge consensus in the region and reintegrate the Taliban in the political mainstream.”