Former Turkish Counter-Terror Head: Security Purges Led to Ambassador Assassination

After failed coup, Erdogan replaced tens of thousands of police, judges, prosecutors, military officers

Mevlut Mert Altintasat after shooting Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov in Ankara, Dec. 19, 2016 / AP
December 22, 2016

Security holes that led to the Monday assassination of Russia's ambassador to Turkey by a young police officer could foreshadow things to come, according to the former head of the counter-terrorism and operations division of Turkey's national police.

Massive purges of the police, intelligence, and judiciary branches of the Turkish government since 2014 have left gaping holes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has filled with political supporters of his emerging Islamist regime in Ankara, according to Ahmet Yayla.

Mevlut Mert Altintas, the 22-year-old riot squad police officer turned assassin, had worked in Ankara only since 2014. He shouted rhetoric linking him with the jihadists of the Nusra Front, according to Yayla, who teaches courses in national security and law at George Mason University.

"He used the phrase, 'safe places,' which is a set term from jihadist terminology," Yayla said. "It's clear this man was a jihadi."

He shouted "Allahu Akbar—God is Great!" and "this is for Aleppo" after he stood behind the Ambassador and fired 10 rounds into him, Yayla said.

After the failed coup against Erdogan on July 15 the president moved to replace tens of thousands of police, judges, prosecutors, and military officers suspected of disloyalty.

"In the Ministry of Interior alone after the coup, the president removed 18,600 senior police officers," Yayla said. "These skilled and trained officers cannot be replaced overnight."

Erdogan closed police colleges and military academies, eliminating national qualifying exams, he said.

"In place of these schools, Erdogan's Ministry of Interior hired politically trusted graduates of four-year colleges and put them through four-month training courses, and some of these were given the rank of sergeant and given management roles upon graduation," he said.

Some observers believe that Altintas had been given political favors.

"As a newly graduated police trainee, he had been assigned to a post in Diyarbakir in Southern Turkey, yet he was quickly reassigned to a prestigious unit of riot police in Ankara," Ahmet said. "It is unthinkable that such a junior officer would have been given this boost unless he were very close to the ruling AKP Party of Erdogan."

"Either his senior officers were not experienced enough to note that he was jihadist or they ignored it because the government supports jihadism," Yayla said.

It is not clear whether Altintas was allied with the al Qaeda-linked Fath al Sham, which called itself Jabhat al Nusra until June 2016.

Fath al Sham claimed responsibility for assassinating the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, after saying it would avenge the fall of Aleppo to pro-regime soldiers. However, Abu Maria al Qahtani, a member of the Shura Council of Fateh al Sham, disavowed the claim, denying his group's involvement in the assassination, according to Daesh Daily, a war digest.

ISIS did not claim credit for the attack.

The apparent alliance between Turkey, NATO's sole member in the Middle East, and the Nusra Front in Syria has been noted by several regional observers.

"It is well known that the government of Turkey supplies the Nusra Front, now the Fath Al-Sham, with weapons and supplies," said Pinhas Inbari, a political analyst with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "Turkey's relationship to Nusra is the same as that of Iran to Hezbollah."

The UK-based Conflict Armaments Research Group reported in mid-December that explosives and missile parts have flowed from Turkish factories into Syria the last three years. Although legally purchased within Turkey for domestic use, the explosives were covertly exported to Syria and from there to Mosul through allies of the terrorists.

"Certain members of the Turkish national intelligence organization (MIT) actually assisted at the Turkish border to wave large trucks through the border without inspection," Yayla said.

Published under: Turkey