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Photographers capture the chilling act of assassination

20 December 2016, 15:25

EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press photographer Burhan Ozbilici was attending a photo exhibition when a gunman opened fire, assassinating Russia's ambassador to Turkey. He recounts the chaos that unfolded as he captured the scene. Pictures are not for sensitive viewers.

Ankara - The event was routine enough — the opening of an exhibit of photographs of Russia — so when a man on stage pulled out a gun I was stunned and thought it was a theatrical flourish.

It was anything but. Moments later the Russian ambassador was sprawled on the floor and the attacker was waving his gun at the rest of us, shouting slogans. He shot the ambassador at least once more at close range and smashed some of the framed photos on the wall. In all there were at least eight shots.

Guests ran for cover, hiding behind columns and under tables. I composed myself enough to shoot pictures.



"Don't forget Aleppo. Don't forget Syria!" the gunman shouted in Turkish, referring to the Syrian city where Russian bombardments have helped drive rebels from areas they had occupied for years during the war. He also shouted "Allahu akbar" but I couldn't understand the rest of what he said in Arabic.

Authorities would later confirm that Ambassador Andrei Karlov, 62, was dead. The gunman, identified as police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, was killed after a 15-minute shootout.

The exhibition, titled "From Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, from the eyes of travelers" featured photos from Russia's westernmost Baltic region to the Kamchatka Peninsula, in the east. I decided to attend simply because it was on my way home from the office.

When I arrived, the speeches had already begun. After the Russian ambassador began to make his address, I moved closer to photograph him, thinking the pictures would come in useful for stories on Turkish-Russian relations.

He was speaking softly and — from what I could tell — lovingly about his homeland, stopping occasionally to allow the translator to relay his words in Turkish.

Suddenly, gunshots rang out in quick succession, followed by panicked audience members running for cover. The ambassador's body lay on the blood-splattered ground.

It took me a few seconds to realize what had happened: A man had died in front of me; a life had disappeared before my eyes.

I was shocked and sad but I started to take photographs, sheltering behind a wall.

The gunman was agitated. He circled the body, smashing some of the photos hanging on the wall. He shouted at everyone to stand back and pointed his gun at us. Security guards ordered us to vacate the hall and we left.

Ambulances and armored vehicles soon arrived and the police operation was launched.

When I returned to the office to edit my photos, I was shocked to see that the gunman was actually standing behind the ambassador as he spoke.

A photographer from Turkish daily newspaper Sözcü captured a different angle of the attack.

- AP

Tags turkey russia
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