Turkey trial to open into Russian ambassador’s 2016 killing

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Mevlut Mert Altintas, an off-duty policeman, shouts after shooting Andrei Karlov, right, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)
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Andrei Karlov, then Russian Ambassador to Turkey, pauses during a speech at a photo exhibition in Ankara, moments before Mevlut Mert Altintas, seen background left, opened fire on him and killed him. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)
Updated 08 January 2019
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Turkey trial to open into Russian ambassador’s 2016 killing

  • Andrei Karlov, 62, was shot dead by an off-duty Turkish policeman at a photo exhibition in Ankara on December 19, 2016
  • The 22-year-old gunman, Mevlut Mert Altintas, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “Don’t forget Aleppo”

ANKARA: Twenty eight suspects were due to go on trial Tuesday over the assassination of the Russian ambassador two year ago, including a US-based Muslim preacher blamed by Ankara for a failed coup the same year.
Andrei Karlov, 62, was shot dead by an off-duty Turkish policeman at a photo exhibition in Ankara on December 19, 2016, in a shock attack that was captured on camera by photographers attending the event.
The 22-year-old gunman, Mevlut Mert Altintas, shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “Don’t forget Aleppo,” vowing that those responsible for events in Syria would be held accountable.
Altintas was killed shortly after by members of the Turkish special forces.
The Ankara prosecutor has charged 16 of the suspects with “premeditated murder with the intention of causing terror,” according to the indictment. The other 12 were charged with “being a member of a terror organization.”
Thirteen are currently in pre-trial detention, while it is prosecuting others in absentia.
Those not in Turkey include Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic preacher seen as an arch foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and who Ankara blames for the July 2016 coup attempt.
Gulen has denied links to both the failed coup and the murder.
Turkish officials have alleged that Gulen’s movement organized the murder of Karlov, a married father-of-one, to sow “chaos.”
Turkey refers to the organization as the “Fetullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) but followers say it is peaceful, promoting secular education.
Another of the suspects named is Serif Ali Tekalan, who headed a university linked to Gulen in Istanbul and now heads the Texas-based North American University (NAU).
The prosecutor is seeking a variety of penalties for the suspects, including aggravated life sentences, which have replaced the death penalty in Turkey and carry harsher conditions than normal life imprisonment convictions.
The indictment says the Gulen movement plotted the murder of Karlov, who had been appointed as ambassador in 2013, to “break off bilateral relations” between Turkey and Russia and bring them to the brink of “hot war.”
The Kremlin had previously warned against rushing to any assumptions.
Although Moscow does not repeat the Gulen claims, Selim Koru, a Black Sea Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank noted in a report late last year that Russia sent investigators and “if they had different findings, they didn’t say.”
Turkey and Russia had a dramatic falling out in November 2015 after a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian warplane along the Syrian border.
But by the summer of 2016 relations had improved, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan keen to show they are working together to find a solution to the Syrian conflict despite being on opposing sides of the war.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen since 2016 in a crackdown criticized by human rights groups and Ankara’s Western allies.


Daesh defends final pocket of dying ‘caliphate’ in Syria

Updated 18 February 2019
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Daesh defends final pocket of dying ‘caliphate’ in Syria

  • Diehard extremist fighters are now trapped in a patch of territory of less than half a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border
  • Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called ‘Baghouz pocket’ in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the last three days

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Extremists defending their last dreg of territory in Syria have no choice but to surrender, a Kurdish-led force said on Monday, ahead of a victory declaration expected within days.

The warning by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) comes as EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Monday to discuss the repatriation of European nationals in Syria, which Germany said would be “extremely difficult” to do.

Diehard extremist fighters are now trapped in their last patch of territory of less than half a square kilometer in the village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.

The SDF are moving cautiously on the extremist holdout, saying Daesh is increasingly using civilians as “human shields” to block the advance.

“The clashes are sporadic and very limited,” SDF spokesman Mustefa Bali told AFP on Monday.

“So far there have been no significant changes on the ground,” he said, adding that coalition warplanes have reduced air strikes on Daesh positions over the past two days.

The SDF “are still working on trying to get civilians out,” the spokesman said.

Thousands of people have streamed out of the so-called “Baghouz pocket” in recent weeks, but no civilians have made it out in the last three days.

An informed source told AFP that holdout Daesh fighters are seeking safe passage to the extremist-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria.

“They want to take the remaining civilians with them as human shields. But the SDF are not willing to discuss this option,” said the source who asked not to be named.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the SDF have turned down the request.

AFP could not confirm this with an SDF official, but a commander with the alliance said that Daesh has no leverage to negotiate.

“They are besieged in a very tight area and they have no other choice but to surrender,” said the SDF commander, who asked not to be named.

The group declared a “caliphate” across large swathes of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014, which at its height spanned an area the size of United Kingdom.

Successive offensives in both countries have since shattered the proto-state, but the extremist group still retains a presence in Syria’s vast Badia desert and has claimed deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.

After years of fighting Daesh, the Kurdish-led SDF hold hundreds of foreign suspected Daesh fighters, as well as related women and children.

Syria’s Kurds have long urged their home countries to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.

The issue has taken on greater urgency, however, amid fears of a security vacuum since US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement in December that American troops would withdraw.

The subject is to be raised on Monday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.

The meeting comes after Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back their citizens who are being held by the Kurds in Syria.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 Daesh fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet.

His appeal sparked a reaction from Berlin, Paris, and Brussels.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that it would be “extremely difficult” to organize the repatriation of European nationals from Syria.

A return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained,” he said.

Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen stressed the difficulties however of putting the ex-fighters on trial.

“We must be able to ensure that prosecution is possible,” she said.

French junior interior minister Laurent Nunez said Sunday that, if suspected extremists return, “they will all be tried, and incarcerated.”

In Belgium, justice minister Koen Geens called for a collective “European solution.”

Meanwhile, a top Kurdish official called on Europe not to abandon Syrian Kurds.

European powers “have a political and moral responsibility” to the Kurds, Aldar Khalil told AFP in an interview in Paris late Sunday.

The Kurds would seek the protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad if failed by Europe and the United States, he said.