Turkish official links Russian envoy killer to exiled cleric

ANKARA, Dec 19 (Reuters) - A Turkish security official said Ankara saw "very strong signs" the gunman who killed Russia's ambassador there on Monday was a follower of a U.S.-based Muslim cleric blamed for orchestrating a failed coup in July.

A representative of cleric Fethullah Gulen, Alp Aslandogan, denied any link and said the exiled cleric condemned the murder as a "heinous act."

The Turkish official, who declined to be identified, said the current investigation was focused on the gunman's links to the network of Gulen's followers, which the government calls the "Gulenist Terrorist Organisation" or "FETO."

The government says Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania since 1999, created a "parallel network" in the police, military, judiciary and civil service aimed at overthrowing the state. Gulen denies this.

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Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov killed in art gallery shooting
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Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov killed in art gallery shooting
FILE PHOTO - Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov accompanies Russian President Vladimir Putin (not seen), who disembarks from the Presidential aircraft at Ataturk airport in Istanbul, Turkey, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (front C) poses with Russia's Ambassador to North Korea Andrei Gennadiyevich Karlov (front R) and other embassy members during a photo session at the Russian embassy in Pyongyang March 8, 2005, in this photo released in Tokyo March 11, 2005. Kim visited the Russian Embassy on Tuesday to receive a medal, presented to him on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Korea Central News Agency reported on Tuesday. JAPAN OUT REUTERS/Korea News Service IK/CN
FILE PHOTO: Andrei Gennadiyevich Karlov poses during a photo session at the Russian embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 8, 2005, in this photo released in Tokyo March 11, 2005. JAPAN OUT REUTERS/Korea News Service/File Photo TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
ANKARA, TURKEY - (ARCHIVE) : A file photo dated November 30, 2016 shows Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov (C) during an exclusive interview in Ankara, Turkey. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov has been shot multiple times at an exhibition in Ankara on December 19, 2016. Karlov was delivering a speech at the opening ceremony of a photo exhibit when an armed assailant opened fire on him. The envoy was seriously wounded and was taken to hospital immediately. (Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
An ambulance leaves the area near an art gallery where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot in Ankara, Turkey, December 19, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
ANKARA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 19: Turkish police secure the area outside where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot inside an art gallery on December 19, 2016, Turkey in Ankara. Russian foreign ministry confirmed the death of envoy Andrei Karlov in the attack at the gallery in the Turkish capital on Monday by a gunman shouting 'Don't forget Aleppo! Don't forget Syria'. (Photo by Erhan Ortac/Getty Images)
Pictured in this file image dated December 1, 2016 are Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and Russia's Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov at a meeting of the Russian-Turkish Joint Strategic Planning Group (JSPG) at the Rubi Platinum Hote in Alanya, Turkey. File Photo/Alexander Shcherbak/TASS (Photo by Alexander Shcherbak\TASS via Getty Images)
ANKARA, TURKEY - DECEMBER 19: Signs direct traffic as Turkish police secure the area outside where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot inside an art gallery on December 19, 2016, Turkey in Ankara. Russian foreign ministry confirmed the death of envoy Andrei Karlov in the attack at the gallery in the Turkish capital on Monday by a gunman shouting 'Don't forget Aleppo! Don't forget Syria'. (Photo by Erhan Ortac/Getty Images)
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President Tayyip Erdogan identified the attacker, who was later killed by security forces, as a member of the Ankara riot police who had spent 2-1/2 years on the force.

"The people he lived with before school were detained over FETO. It was determined that the people with whom he graduated from school were from a FETO team," the senior security official said of the attacker.

"Information was obtained to the effect that people who helped him get into school were from FETO. There are very strong signs that the person who carried out this attack was from FETO. The investigation is currently focused totally on this."

The official also cited the fact that the attacker had taken July 15-17 as holiday. The government may argue the timing of his holiday demonstrated foreknowledge of the July 15 coup.

Gulen adviser Aslandogan, who advises Gulen on media issues, said the allegations by the Turkish official were "laughable" and intended to cover up for lax security.

"Mr. Gulen categorically condemns this heinous act," he told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Tom Heneghan)


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