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

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.


Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

Updated 16 September 2019

Kim Jong Un invites Trump to Pyongyang

  • Invitation extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has invited US President Donald Trump to Pyongyang in his latest letter to the American head of state,  South Korea’s top diplomat said on Monday.

“I heard detailed explanations from US officials that there was such a letter a while ago,” Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa told a  parliamentary session. “But I’m not in a position to confirm what’s in the letter or when it was delivered.”

The foreign minister’s remarks followed reports by a local newspaper, JoongAng Ilbo, which said that Kim’s invitation was extended in an undisclosed personal letter sent to Trump on Aug. 15.

If true, the invitation was made as diplomats of the two governments were in a tug-of-war over the resumption of working-level talks for the North’s denuclearization efforts.

During a surprise meeting at the Korean border village of Panmunjom on June 30, Trump and Kim pledged that working-level nuclear disarmament talks would resume within a month, but no such talks have been held,  with both sides indulging in a blame game instead.

“We are very curious about the background of the American top  diplomat’s thoughtless remarks and we will watch what calculations he has,” North Korea’s first vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui said on Aug. 30 in a statement carried by the North’s official Central News Agency (KCNA). He was referring to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments terming Pyongyang’s rocket launches as “rogue.”

However, the tone has changed significantly with the communist state recently offering to return to dialogue with Washington “at a time and place agreed late in September.”

“I want to believe that the US side would come out with an alternative based on a calculation method that serves both sides’ interests and is acceptable to us,” Choe said on Aug. 30.

On Monday, the director-general of the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s department of American affairs said working-level denuclearization talks will likely take place “in a few weeks” but demanded security guarantees and sanctions’ relief as prerequisites.

“The discussion of denuclearization may be possible when threats and hurdles endangering our system security and obstructing our  development are clearly removed beyond all doubt,” the statement said. 

HIGHLIGHT

It’s not clear whether the US president has responded to the invitation, thought he has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in was upbeat about the early resumption of nuclear talks.

“North Korea-US working-level dialogue will resume soon,” he said, citing an “unchanged commitment” to trust and peace by the leaders of both Koreas and the US. 

The working-level meeting will serve as a “force to advance the peace process on the Korean Peninsula,” he added.

Moon is scheduled to meet Trump on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session in New York next week.

“It will be an opportunity to share opinions and gather wisdom with Trump on the direction of further development of South Korea-US  relations,” he said.

The White House offered no immediate comment.

It’s not clear whether Trump responded to Kim’s invitation to Pyongyang, but the US commander-in-chief has touted his personal relationship with the young North Korean dictator, who oversaw the test-firings of short-range ballistic missiles and multiple launch rockets more than half a dozen times since late July.

While none of the projectiles are a direct threat to the US continent they still pose threats to US and its allied forces in South Korea and Japan.

“Kim Jong-un has been, you know, pretty straight with me, I think,” Trump told reporters on August 24 before flying off to meet with world leaders at the G7 in France. “And we’re going to see what’s going on. We’re going to see what’s happening. He likes testing missiles.”

Experts say the apparent firing of US National Security Adviser John Bolton has also boosted chances of fresh negotiations with the North, which had long criticized him for his hawkish approach toward the regime.

“The displacement of a ‘bad guy’ could be construed as a negotiating tactic to seek a breakthrough in the stalemate of nuclear talks. It’s a show of a will to engage the counterpart in a friendlier manner from the perspective of negotiation science,” Park Sang-ki, an adjunct professor at the department of business management at Sejong University in Seoul, told Arab News.