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
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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.


US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

Updated 25 June 2019
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US border chief quits amid outcry over child detainees

  • John Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas
  • Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone

WASHINGTON: The acting commissioner of the US Customs and Border Protection agency announced his resignation on Tuesday amid a public outcry over alarming detention conditions of migrant children in Texas.
John Sanders, appointed to the post just two months ago, said in a letter obtained by several US media outlets that he planned to step down as acting CBP chief on July 5.
Sanders’ departure coincides with the revelation of unsanitary detention conditions for children at an overcrowded Border Patrol facility in Clint, Texas, a sign of the increasing strain on resources due to soaring numbers of arrests at the US-Mexico border.
The conditions at the center in Clint were described by a team of lawyers, doctors and others who visited the facility about 20 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of El Paso.
Nearly 250 children were transferred out of Clint on Monday but a CBP official said Tuesday that some 100 were being sent back there.
“The three-year old before me had matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants, and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue,” wrote Clara Long, a researcher with Human Rights Watch who accompanied the team.
“His only caretaker for the last three weeks in a United States Border Patrol chain-link cage and then a cell... his 11-year old brother,” Long said.
“Children at Clint told us they don’t have regular access to showers or clean clothes, with some saying they hadn’t been allowed to bathe over periods of weeks and don’t have regular access to soap,” she said.
Speaking on CNN on Tuesday, Long said “the situation is dire.”
“And it’s not just Clint,” she said.
Sanders has led CBP since April, when President Donald Trump tapped CBP chief Kevin McAleenan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
In a message to staff, Sanders did not give a specific reason for quitting and officials told The Washington Post and The New York Times it was not clear if his resignation was directly related to the handling of underage migrants at the border.
Trump told reporters Tuesday he did not ask Sanders to step down but “knew there were going to be changes there.”
US law requires unaccompanied minors to be returned to their parents or transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours.
But many of the children held by the Border Patrol in Clint had been there for three or four weeks, according to the team which visited the facility on June 17.
“The Border Patrol claims that high numbers of border arrivals are causing these delays as they wait for space to open up in the somewhat more child-friendly detention centers and shelters,” said HRW’s Long.
Arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern US border have surged in recent months, with 144,000 people taken into custody in May alone. CBP deputy commissioner Robert Perez said more than 100,000 were children and families.
“Everybody understands it is not the Border Patrol’s job to take care of children,” said Warren Binford, a Willamette University law professor who visited the Clint facility.
“They are as upset as we are that these children are being put into their care because they don’t have the ability to care for them,” Binford said on MSNBC.
“These children need to be with their families.”
Perez, the CBP deputy commissioner, made the same complaint recently at a panel discussion in Washington.
“We are a border security agency now being called upon to deal with things we’re not designed for,” Perez said.
Trump, asked about conditions at the detention centers, said he was “very concerned” and urged Democrats to approve $4.5 billion in emergency humanitarian funding for the southwest border.
He said “bad people” were using children to take advantage of lax US immigration laws. “It’s a form of slavery what they’re doing to young children,” he said.
Trump also said Mexico “for the first time in 50 years is helping us” prevent border-crossing.
“So I just want to thank Mexico,” said the US leader, who had threatened steep tariffs on Mexican goods unless the government did more to slow migration.
After a week of tense negotiations, Mexico agreed to reinforce its southern border with 6,000 National Guardsmen and expand its policy of taking back migrants while the US processes their asylum claims. Mexico has also deployed 15,000 troops to the US border.
“They’ve done a great job,” said Trump. “Hopefully they can keep it up.”