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Russian ambassador to Turkey assassinated

Russian ambassador to Turkey assassinated
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Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot and killed at an art gallery in the country’s capital city of Ankara, The Associated Press reported.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed his death in a statement Monday afternoon.

"Today is a tragic day in the history of Russian Federation," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. "Today in Ankara, during a public event, Russian Ambassador Andrey Karlov was shot and, shortly after that, he died." 

According to Sputnik News, the Foreign Ministry said it considers the shooting to be a terrorist attack. Zakharova also said Turkish authorities have promised a thorough investigation.

Karlov was speaking at the gallery when a gunman opened fire.

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State-run Turkish outlet Anadolu Agency reported that the gunman was killed by police on the scene.

According to an Associated Press photographer who was at the gallery, Karlov was several minutes into his speech when a man in a suit and tie entered, shouted “Allahu Akbar” — meaning "God is the greatest" in Arabic — and fired several shots. He also reportedly said some words in Russian and smashed several of the photos on display.

The gunman also shouted "Don't forget about Syria, don't forget about Aleppo!" according to Reuters.

Sputnick News identified the shooter as Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a former police officer. Altıntaş, 22, was reportedly investigated as part of the July coup attempt in Turkey fired from the force.

Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryBeware language and the art of manipulation Budowsky: President Biden for the Nobel Peace Prize Bishops to debate banning communion for president MORE condemned the violence in a Tuesday statement.

"We stand ready to offer assistance to Russia and Turkey as they investigate this despicable attack, which was also an assault on the right of all diplomats to safely and securely advance and represent their nations around the world," he said.

And the White House issued a similar message. 

“This heinous attack on a member of the diplomatic corps is unacceptable,” said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price. "We stand united with Russia and Turkey in our determination to confront terrorism in all of its forms.
 
Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz confirmed that President Obama has been briefed on the incident in Hawaii, where he and his family are on vacation. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is set to travel to Russia Tuesday for talks with Iran and the Kremlin regarding the ongoing war in Syria.

Russia and Turkey have been at odds over backing opposite sides in the Syrian civil war. Russia intervened to help ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey supports the rebels fighting him.

Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement Monday characterizing the attack as an attempt to derail the Syrian peace process, according to state-funded news network RT.

"This murder is clearly a provocation aimed at undermining the improvement and normalization of Russian-Turkish relations, as well as undermining the peace process in Syria promoted by Russia, Turkey, Iran and other countries interested in settling the conflict in Syria," he said.

In a television statement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan echoed Putin’s remarks and called for continued cooperation between the two nations on the evacuation underway in Aleppo, Syria.

"We agree with Putin that this is a provocation, there is no split of opinion about this,” said Erdoğan, according to Hurriyet. “In this phone call tonight, we agreed on empowering our solidarity."

In November 2015, tensions flared when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that Ankara said crossed into its territory from Syria. Relations between the two countries remained tense until Erdoğan apologized for the incident in June.

After the apology, relations seemed to warm. Erdogan visited Russia in August, and Putin visited Turkey in October, where he announced an agreement to revive a natural gas pipeline project. 

The improving relations between Turkey and Russia developed as both have been at odds with the United States. The U.S. has numerous issues with Russia, including its conduct in the Syrian war, its actions in Ukraine and its cyber attacks in America. Turkey, in turn, is angry that the U.S. has not extraditing a Muslim cleric it blames for the failed coup attempt this summer. 

Any conflict between Turkey and Russia threatens to embroil the United States, as Turkey is a NATO ally.

In recent weeks, Turkey and Russia have been the lead negotiators in an agreement to evacuate civilians and rebels from Aleppo as the besieged city falls to Assad. 

Russia and Syria have been accused of atrocities in Aleppo, including summary executions of civilians and destroying hospitals in rebel-held territory. 

Updated at 3:43