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Did Erdogan's Police Purge Help Set the Stage for Ghastly Syria-Related Assassination?

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A Turkish police insider claims Erdogan's politicized firings created a massive security void.

Co-written by *Ken Klippenstein

Russia's ambassador to Turkey Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot viewing a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey.
Russia's ambassador to Turkey Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot viewing a photo gallery in Ankara, Turkey.
(Image by YouTube, Channel: Fox News)
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The video is as gruesome as it is surreal: A man in a black suit appears to be standing guard behind Russia's ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, for several minutes as Karlov addresses an art exhibition in Ankara. The man then steps forward, fires multiple shots into the ambassador's back and launches into an extended rant. "Don't forget Syria! Don't forget Aleppo," the assassin declares, referring to the Syrian city that has been the subject of intense fighting between Islamist rebels including Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham -- the Syrian franchise of Al Qaeda -- and the Syrian government, which has been bolstered by Russian airpower.

The shooter has been identified as 22-year-old Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish police officer who has allegedly been on the force for two and a half years. He was killed after fulminating and pacing around the site of the killing uninterrupted for 15 minutes.

Was Altintas assigned to a security detail for the Russian ambassador, an obvious target after fierce protests led by extremists waving Al Qaeda flags surrounded the Russian consulate in Istanbul? How was this character hired by the police in the first place, and did he enjoy any relationship to the government of Erdogan, which has pumped immense amounts of weapons and funding to extremist rebel factions in Syria?

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The Turkish government has attempted to pin the blame on its exiled arch adversary Fetullah Gulen, claiming that Altintas was a member of Gulen's FEPO cell. The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gokcek, has even suggested Altintas bellowed out Islamist slogans to implicate Erdogan's conservative, Islamist-oriented Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Gulen, for his part, is a fervent opponent of Turkey's support for Islamist rebels in Syria.

But Ahmet Yayla, a former high-ranking Turkish law enforcement official, told AlterNet it is the Erdogan administration that has filled Turkish law enforcement with extremist elements. Yayla would know about the internal affairs of Turkey's deep state; he served as chief of counter-terrorism in the Turkish National Police at the Turkey-Syria border city of Sanliurfa from 2010-2012 and chief of police until 2014, work that entailed identifying extremists attempting to cross the border into Turkey.

In 2015, Yayla fled Turkey after his government accused him of links to Gulen, the exiled cleric. Gulen and Yayla have denied any links to one another, but the allegations have persisted in pro-AKP media.

Today, Yayla works as deputy director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism at George Mason University.

According to Yayla, the police forces were destabliized by Erdogan's heavy-handed purges of accused Gulen supporters.

"Over 30,000 people were fired, so what do you expect?" Yayla told AlterNet. "All the experienced intelligence -- chiefs, officers, majors, lieutenants, captains -- they're all gone. The rest is the traffic police officers, riot police officers -- they don't know anything about investigations."

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Erdogan's government had claimed the police forces were a haven of Gulenist elements. Turkish intelligence, which aligned closely with Erdogan, accused the police of obstructing its attempts to supply Islamist rebels in Syria. With orders from the top, police officiais were fired en masse.

In order to replace all of the law enforcement officers lost to these purges, Erdogan loosened hiring standards, emphasizing loyalty and political obedience over competence and experience.

"They are hiring AKP people," Yayla explained. "You must bring a letter or call from a trustee that he is "a supporter or member of AKP. Without that reference you cannot be hired. You must be affiliated with AKP."

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Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Nation, The Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera English and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for the Nation Institute. His book, (more...)
 

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