The Assassination of Russia’s Ambassador and Berlin’s Terrorist Attack - What Do They Have in Common?

On the evening of 19 December, the ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, was shot dead in Ankara. A few minutes later, on the same day, a lorry ploughed into a Christmas Market on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm Avenue, crushing 12 people and injuring 50 others, according to preliminary reports. The terrorist in Ankara shouted, “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” Berlin’s barbarian killed silently. The Ankara killer was 22 years old, Berlin’s was 23. The latter was from Tunisia; he killed the original driver and stole the truck. No one has yet claimed responsibility for Turkey’s terrorist attack. ISIS has claimed responsibility for Berlin’s (frankly, I do not believe this claim; ISIS wants to be part of every terrorist act, as it terribly wants to be feared).

Distinct terrorist acts, distinct countries. What do they have in common, or do they even have anything in common? Actually, they do! They are both associated with the critical situation in the Middle East and the Islamic world, in connection with relations between world Islam and the West, as well as Russia. They are both a reaction to the systemic crisis that emerged at the beginning of the 21st century.

I would like to note that the assassination of the ambassador, which in this case has affected Russia, is not the first such incident. In 2012, the US ambassador Christopher Stevens was killed in Libya. Both murders are revenge for meddling in Muslim affairs. Many in the world of Islam affirm that Muslims are capable of resolving their own internal affairs, without any meddling by foreign ‘Hectors’, which can be deemed excessive. They see it as their right, requiring no explanation. Furthermore, the Islamic world has not forgotten the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan, nor Iraq’s invasion by the US in 2003. Muslims have a lot to remember.

Berlin’s tragedy near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church cannot be considered exceptional. First of all, the attack cannot be considered unique in its execution. The lorry technique was previously tested last July on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, when a mentally disturbed Tunisian drove a refrigerated truck through a large crowd. He did not shout, “Allahu Akbar!” but the ISIS Press Secretary, Muhammad Al-Adnani, did deliver a statement entitled “Die from Exasperation” on this occasion, urging followers to pursue such actions.

Secondly, the massacre took place just before Christmas, and this is not necessarily a coincidence. Extremists of late are increasingly striking at the ‘foreign’ Christian religion. Let us remember churches in Nigeria being dynamited during religious festivals. A Catholic priest, Jacques Hamel, was killed last summer in Rouen, France. In 2015, ISIS executed Christian hostages, and just recently, Islamists were responsible for an explosion near Saint Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Cairo.

Acts of terrorism were carried out in December in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny. Certain experts and journalists have noticed that in the last few years, shootings and explosions in the North Caucasus seem to take place during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Is this simply a coincidence?

There is growing talk that ISIS and its supporters are leading a religious war.

The fact that the terrorist act in Berlin’s Christmas Market took place during Christmas festivities was immediately noted by Donald Trump, the newly elected president of the United States. In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel pensively stated that the Tunisian that attacked the crowd was an immigrant. The difference is obvious, but if brought together, it is rather sad: a Muslim immigrant arranges a nightmare for Christmas.

The appallingly sad part is that the Ankara and Berlin nightmares are both linked to religion. We must honestly acknowledge this fact regardless of how difficult it is. Humanity has entered a post-secular age. We would like to separate religion from politics, but it is impossible, especially when considering today’s extremist trends. Conflicts, whether in the Middle East or in Europe – including those associated with Muslim migration – take place in a political-religious arena. It is sad, but it is unavoidable in the early 21st century. We are not ready for this.

The murder of the Russian ambassador – whilst he was inaugurating a harmless photo-exhibit entitled ‘Russia through the eyes of Turks’ – also has a connection to religion. In any case, it is particularly related to internal Syrian conflicts between Bashar Assad’s regime and the Islamic opposition, comprising some factions that can be considered as moderate, and others radical, even extremist. These religious radicals are most uncompromising.

One could obviously assert that the former policeman Mevlut Mert Altintas represented some kind of secret organisation; some Russian politicians claim that the assassination is the work of NATO (a somewhat hasty conclusion); but the terrorist was most likely operating on his own. I do not believe the version of the story currently spreading in Turkey, that he was an adherent of Fethullah Gülen. The Islamic preacher living in the States and heading Turkish Islamic opposition, according to the Turkish authorities, was one of the organisers of the recently failed coup attempt. But terrorism is not the approach of Gülen, who writes about the necessity for dialogue between people of various convictions, and between religions.

The future will tell whether Altintas was backed by a wider group or whether he was simply a ‘loner’. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: he was retaliating against Russia on behalf of Islam and believed his cause to be right. The same is true of the Tunisian terrorist in Berlin.

Unfortunately, terrorist acts are becoming routine, whether in the Middle East, or in Europe. It is a political and religious trend that humanity – Christian, Muslim, or otherwise – is not capable of eradicating.

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