Turkey sentences 5 to life over 2016 Russian envoy killing

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A Turkish court on Tuesday sentenced five suspects to life in prison over the 2016 murder of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Six suspects were acquitted, while seven others were convicted of membership of an armed terrorist group, NTV reported, without giving further details.

The suspects were accused of links to the 22-year-old gunman, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, who was killed by Turkish special forces shortly after he assassinated Karlov at a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital in December 2016.

In the course of his attack on the ambassador Altıntaş shouted slogans in reference to Russia’s offensive in Aleppo as well as a war chant used by a jihadist group in Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the pro-government media were quick to lay the blame on the Gülen movement.

They insisted on the narrative despite the fact that many suspects denied having any links with the movement and admitted other Islamic affiliations.

The Gülen movement and cleric Fethullah Gülen, who leads it, strongly deny any involvement in the murder as well as an abortive putsch that took place in July 2016.

The prosecutor alleged that the assassination was an attempt to strain Turkish-Russian relations.

Former intelligence agent Vehbi Kürşad Akalın was given an aggravated life sentence after he “leaked information on Karlov to the movement,” NTV said.

Aggravated life has tougher terms of detention and replaced the death penalty after it was abolished in 2004.

The suspect accused of giving the order to Altıntaş to assassinate Karlov, Salih Yılmaz, was given two aggravated life sentences, NTV reported.

Another suspect, Şahin Söğüt, was convicted of acting as Altıntaş’s “mentor” within the Gülen movement, NTV added.

Erdoğan at the time called Karlov’s murder a “provocation especially aimed at disrupting the normalization process of Turkey-Russia relations.”

Ties between Ankara and Moscow were on the mend after Turkey shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Russia slapped Turkey with a series of sanctions as a result.

But Erdoğan apologized in 2016 for the incident, and now Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoy a close relationship, even if they are wary of each other.

A total of 28 suspects were on trial including Gülen after the case began in 2019. His case and that of eight other fugitives were separated from the main trial, NTV added.

Tens of thousands of people have been arrested over alleged Gülen links since 2016, while more than 130,000 public sector workers have been sacked or suspended over such claims.

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