News World Photographer recounts Russian ambassador murder

Photographer recounts Russian ambassador murder

photographer recounts ambassador murder
The photographer at the scene of a Russian ambassador's assassination has recounted the chaotic event. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici
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The photographer behind the incredible images taken in the aftermath of the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has been praised for his bravery and presence of mind.

Mr Karlov was shot and killed in front of a crowd of people gathered at the opening of a photography exhibit in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Turkish police have detained six people over the killing, including the attacker’s mother, father, sister and two other relatives, while his flatmate in Ankara was also detained, state-run Anadolu agency said.

As off-duty policeman Mevlut Mert Aydintas fired several bullets into the ambassador, Associated Press (AP) photographer Burhan Ozbilici – who was there to cover the event – risked death or injury when he chose to continue capturing images.

According to experts, Mr Ozbilici displayed remarkable bravery to photograph the dramatic action.

“It goes with the territory to a certain extent,” Victorian College of the Arts photography professor Anne Marsh said.

“For professional photographers who document news photography anywhere where there is a newsworthy situation, however dangerous it might be, the instinct is to photograph the event as it unfolds,” Prof Marsh said.

“We take photographic footage for granted and we don’t often realise someone is literally putting their life in danger when they are filming these events.”

Ozbilici recounts the chaotic scenes

Photo in the moments before the shooting shows the attacker just behind the ambassador, calm and looking almost like a security figure. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

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

“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. I remember thinking how calm and humble he seemed.

Minutes later Andrei Karlov was lifeless on the floor. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“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 realise what had happened: A man had died in front of me; a life had disappeared before my eyes.”

Mr Ozbilici was there by chance after a friend invited him to the exhibit and he chose to grab some photos of Mr Karlov for AP’s archive.

The Russian ambassador’s body was the first thing Mr Ozbilici noticed. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“I saw immediately the Russian ambassador on the ground, on the floor. We could not check if he was lifeless, dead or simply injured. And the man [Mr Aydintas] continued to speak,” he said.

“I moved back and to the left, while the gunman gestured with his gun at people cowering on the right side of the room.”

The assailant aimed his gun at the crowd and yelled at them to leave. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“[He was] shouting and pointed his gun toward people, I think he was asking people to disperse, to go away,” Mr Ozbilici continued.

“I was, of course, fearful and knew of the danger if the gunman turned toward me. But I advanced a little and photographed the man as he hectored his desperate, captive audience.”

“I directed my camera, took his photo, and so I continued to shoot, I continued to shoot. Then I saw people running away in panic.”

Guests ran for cover, hid behind columns and under tables, and tried to flee. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“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?'” he recounted.

Mr Ozbilici told AP he thought about friends and colleagues who had died while taking photographs in conflict zones over the years.

The gunman was heard yelling “Allahu akbar”. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“I was afraid and confused, but found partial cover behind a wall and did my job: taking photographs,” he said.

“He also shouted ‘Allahu akbar’, but I couldn’t understand the rest of what he said in Arabic.

“The gunman was agitated. He walked around the ambassador’s body, smashing some of the photos hanging on the wall.”

Mr Ozbilici said the gunman shouted at everyone to stand back and security guards ordered the attendees to vacate the hall.

“Ambulances and armoured vehicles soon arrived and the police operation was launched. The gunman was later killed in a shootout,” he said.

Guests were later let free, the gunman was shot dead soon after. Photo: AP/Burhan Ozbilici

“When I returned to the office to edit my photos, I was shocked to see that the shooter was actually standing behind the ambassador as he spoke. Like a friend, or a bodyguard.”

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