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.