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World

Russian Ambassador To Turkey Assassinated In Ankara

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The conflict in Syria seems to have spilled over into Turkey today. A gunman shot and killed the Russian ambassador to Ankara. It was caught on video. The ambassador fell. The gunman waived his weapon and shouted. What you're about to hear is disturbing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING, GUNFIRE)

MEVLUT MERT ALTINTAS: Allahu akbar. (Foreign languages spoken).

SHAPIRO: "Don't forget Aleppo, Syria," he says. Russia has been supporting the Syrian government in its fight against rebel forces. The ambassador to Turkey was playing a central role in international peace talks. We're joined now by NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Hi, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: What do we know about the gunman and how he pulled off this attack?

KENYON: Well, at first, all we had was that video and the audio we just heard. He's shouting both in Arabic and Turkish about Syria and Aleppo. Remember those places; if there's devastation there, there'll never be peace here - things like that. But the story's - just keeps unfolding. And now Turkey's interior minister has identified the attacker as an off-duty Turkish police officer. He was a man in his early 20s. His name was Mevlut Mert Altintas, assigned to the riot police.

And now, this all happened at a modern art center in the Turkish capital. The Russian ambassador Andrey Karlov was speaking at the opening of a photo exhibit. There were other people wounded in the shooting. This is basically a very shocking event for Turkey. The media here say it's the first killing of a diplomat since the early '70s here, but certainly it's the latest in a string of deadly attacks here this year.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about Ambassador Karlov and his role in the Syria conflict.

KENYON: Well, he was Moscow's point man here in Turkey, and that means both restoring relations - the bilateral relationship. And that means working on the Syria conflict which is the big thorn in the side of both countries here 'cause their positions are basically incompatible.

Turkey wants President Bashar al-Assad out. They're backing the rebel fighters. Russia is Assad's strongest ally, bombing the rebel fighters. And they played a key role in some of the most brutal battles, including there in Aleppo.

Now, Andrey Karlov is described as an experienced diplomat. We're told that even despite some of the difficulties in the policies, he was doing a good job of raising the diplomatic levels, getting the bilateral relationship closer together even on things like Syria.

SHAPIRO: If he was so key to these talks, what are the possible implications of his death today?

KENYON: Well, exactly - I mean Turkey's foreign minister heard of this killing as he was preparing to fly to Moscow for talks tomorrow with his Russian and Iranian counterparts on Syria. Moscow says those talks are going to go ahead, and this assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey will be addressed tomorrow.

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan's, calling it a provocation aimed at ruining ties with Russia. The interior minister's calling it a bullet fired at our country. But remember; this is happening at a very critical moment in Aleppo. Thousands of trapped civilians and whether that is impacted is something everyone will be watching.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul - thank you, Peter.

KENYON: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.