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Shots outside US embassy in Turkey after Russia envoy killed

DEM ALTAN | AFP | Getty Images

Turkish police on Tuesday detained a man who fired shots in front of the U.S. embassy in Ankara, several hours after the Russian ambassador to Turkey was killed in an attack across the street.

The man took out a pump-action shotgun he hid in his coat and fired around eight shots in the air before the embassy's security guards intervened and apparently overpowered him, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

No one was hurt in the incident which occurred hours after a Turkish policeman, appearing to condemn Russia's military role in Syria, fatally shot Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in front of a shocked gathering at a photo exhibit.

The embassy said its missions in Ankara, Istanbul and the southern city of Adana would be "closed for normal operations on Tuesday."

The U.S. embassy is located just across the street from the art exhibition center where the Russian ambassador was killed. It was not immediately known if the two incidents were connected.

The leaders of Turkey and Russia have described the attack as an attempt to disrupt efforts to repair ties between their countries, which have backed opposing sides in the Syrian civil war.

It came as the foreign and defense ministers from Turkey, Iran and Russia prepared to hold a key meeting on Syria on Tuesday in Moscow.

The assassination occurred after days of protests by Turks angry over Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russia's role in the bombardment and destruction of Aleppo, Syria's largest city.

An Associated Press photographer and others at the art gallery watched in horror as the gunman, who was wearing a dark suit and tie, fired at least eight shots, at one point walking around the ambassador as he lay motionless and shooting him again at close range.

The assailant, who was identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old member of Ankara's riot police squad, was later killed in a shootout with police.

A group of 18 investigators and foreign ministry officials have left for Ankara to investigate the killing, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had accepted during a telephone conversation with Putin a request that Russian experts take part. Anadolu reported that the Russian officials would participate in the autopsy.

Hurriyet newspaper said authorities were trying to determine whether Altintas acted alone or if his assault was an organized terror attack.

His actions appeared to be well-planned. The paper said Altintas had taken leave from work on medical grounds and booked himself into a hotel near the exhibition center.

Turkish police detained three more people connected to Altintas on Tuesday, raising the number of people in custody for questioning to seven, Anadolu reported. They include the man's parents, sister, three other relatives and his roommate in Ankara.

The Russian Embassy said Karlov's body would be flown to Russia on Tuesday and a ceremony would be held at the airport in Ankara.

Authorities increased security outside the Russian Embassy, and the Iranian Embassy was closed on Tuesday as a precaution. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov warned against traveling to Turkey, citing a number of terror attacks that have plagued the country over the past 18 months.

"I think every person who travels to Turkey should think twice before doing it because terrorist attacks happen there almost every day," the Tass news agency quoted Syromolotov as saying.

Turkey's pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak claimed Karlov's killing was a plot by the U.S. intelligence agency that was carried out by a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey says is behind a failed coup in July aimed at toppling Erdogan. Gulen denies the accusation.

"Great Sabotage," Yeni Safak said in its headline.