US-based cleric rejects links to Russian envoy’s killing

A coffin with a body of killed Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov is carried out of the Foreign Ministry headquarters in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. Karlov was fatally shot by a Turkish policeman Monday in a gathering in Ankara, Turkey. (Sergei Ilnitsky/Pool photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — A U.S.-based Muslim cleric on Thursday condemned the killing of Russia’s envoy to Turkey and rejected accusations that his movement was behind the attack.

Ambassador Andrei Karlov was shot dead by an off-duty policeman in front of stunned onlookers at a photo exhibition Monday in the Turkish capital, Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has implicated Fethullah Gulen in the killing, accusing his movement of links to the gunman.

In a video address made available to The Associated Press, Gulen accused Erdogan of defaming his movement and suggested that the Turkish government would facilitate other assassinations and blame them on Gulen’s own followers.

Gulen said “it is not possible for them to convince the world of such accusations.”

Russia flew a team of 18 investigators and foreign ministry officials to Turkey to help investigate Karlov’s killing.

In Moscow, Foreign ministry officials and lawmakers gathered at the Russian foreign ministry’s headquarters for a farewell ceremony to Karlov. Diplomats and officials laid flowers at the open casket alongside an honorary guard.

“Those who raised a hand against Ambassador Karlov, who took his life, will definitely fail in their attempts to stop Russia from cooperating with other countries including Turkey,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper chamber of Russia’s parliament.

President Vladimir Putin arrived at the end of the ceremony, laid flowers at the casket, offered condolences to the ambassador’s widow and left.

Karlov’s casket then was carried out of the foreign ministry building and bound for a funeral service at Moscow’s main Christ the Savior Cathedral.

Patriarch Kirill, leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, said as the service began that the ambassador died a “martyr’s death.”

Karlov later was laid to rest at a cemetery north of Moscow.

In Ankara, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim visited the Russian Embassy to lay a memorial bouquet of carnations.

Karlov “now has become the eternal symbol of Turkish-Russian friendship,” Yildirim wrote in a book of condolences.

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