Photojournalist recalls capturing dramatic images of assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov
Burhan Ozbilici, a photojournalist with The Associated Press, said he was just doing his job when he shot the dramatic images of the assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov.
In a blog post for his news agency, Ozbilici described Monday’s “coolly calculated assassination” of Karlov at an art gallery in the Turkish capital of Ankara.
“The event seemed routine, the opening of an exhibit of photographs of Russia,” the photographer wrote. “So when a man in a dark suit and tie pulled out a gun, I was stunned and thought it was a theatrical flourish.”
The gunman, later identified as Mevlut Mert Altintas, was dressed in a black suit and tie and was photographed calmly standing behind the ambassador as Karlov delivered remarks about the photo exhibit.
“The gunshots, at least eight of them, were loud in the pristine art gallery. Pandemonium erupted,” the photojournalist recalled. “I was afraid and confused, but found partial cover behind a wall and did my job: taking photographs.”
Ozbilici said he was on his way home from work when he stopped by the gallery. Karlov already had begun speaking when the photographer arrived.
“I moved closer to photograph him, thinking the pictures would come in useful for stories on Turkish-Russian relations,” Ozbilici described. “Then came the gunshots in quick succession, and panic in the audience. The ambassador’s body lay on the floor, just metres away from me. I couldn’t see any blood around him; I think he may have been shot in the back.
“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,” the photojournalist recalled.
Ozbilici captured several haunting images of the ambassador’s killing including a powerful image of the gunman standing next to Karlov’s body as he pointed in the air, gun in hand, yelling at those in the gallery.
“At first, I couldn’t figure out what had motivated the shooter. I thought he might be a Chechen militant. But people later said he was shouting about the Syrian city of Aleppo,” Ozbilici wrote. “He also shouted “Allahu akbar,” but I couldn’t understand the rest of what he said in Arabic.”
The photographer described Altintas, an off-duty police officer, as being “agitated” after shooting the ambassador. Ozbilici said he moved in a little closer to the gunman despite knowing the danger.
“This is what I was thinking: “I’m here. Even if I get hit and injured, or killed, I’m a journalist. I have to do my work. I could run away without making any photos. … But I wouldn’t have a proper answer if people later ask me: ‘Why didn’t you take pictures?'” the photojournalist described.
Ozbilici made images of gallery-goers hiding in a corner of the exhibit and captured a photograph of a child being held after the shooting, and a striking image of Altintas pointing his weapon towards the group.
The photographer said after the gunman was killed in a shootout with police, he went back to work to edit his photos.
“I was shocked to see that the shooter was actually standing behind the ambassador as he spoke. Like a friend, or a bodyguard,” Ozbilici wrote.
On Tuesday, Turkish police detained six people over the killing of the Russian ambassador, state media said, widening a probe to relatives of the off-duty policeman.
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