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Turkey gives life sentences to 5 over 2016 killing of Russian ambassador

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo, taken on December 19, 2016, shows Andrei Karlov, the Russian Ambassador to Ankara, lying on the floor after being shot by Mevlut Mert Altintas (R) in an attack during a public event in Ankara, Turkey. (By AFP)

A Turkish court has handed down life sentences to five individuals in the 2016 assassination of the then-Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov in Ankara, local media reports say.

Turkey’s NTV broadcaster, citing judicial sources, said on Tuesday that seven others were also convicted of membership in an armed terrorist group, an apparent reference to a movement formed by the US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Former intelligence agent Vehbi Kursad Akalin was given an aggravated life sentence for leaking information on Karlov to the movement.

The suspects were accused of links to the gunman, who was killed by Turkish forces shortly after he murdered Karlov at a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital in December 2016.

After carrying out the murder, the assailant went on a rant caught on camera, which saw him bawling “Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!”

Turkey then blamed the movement led by Gulen, an arch-foe of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the murder. The movement denies the claim.

The assassination, condemned by the Turkish and Russian leaders as an attempt to disrupt Ankara-Moscow ties, came amid cooperation between the two countries over the Syrian conflict.

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

Tensions over Syria dominated Ankara’s relations prior to the assassination of the ambassador — especially when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Turkish-Syrian border in November 2015. But Erdogan apologized for the incident in 2016, and relations had begun to improve between Moscow and Ankara since then.

Ankara also accuses Gulen of orchestrating a failed coup to topple Erdogan in 2016 and refers to the cleric’s movement as the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

The coup attempt was suppressed within a couple of days.

Gulen has denounced the “despicable putsch” and said he had no role in it.

Turkish officials have frequently called on the US to extradite Gulen, but their demands have been ignored.

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