The terrorist mind: A criminal profile

Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, the assailant who killed the Russian envoy, at the crime scene in Ankara.
Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, the assailant who killed the Russian envoy, at the crime scene in Ankara.

To completely understand why a crime, more specifically a terrorist attack, occurs, psychological and social processes play a crucial role as seen in the FETÖ-linked assailant of Russian envoy Andrei Karlov

Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, was attacked while delivering his speech during an art exhibition held in Ankara on Monday night last week. Ambassador Karlov was murdered and three others were wounded as a result of this chilling attack. The perpetrator, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, was a 22-year-old police officer from the riot unit, who was off-duty on the day of the incident. He was killed at the scene during a shootout with Special Ops.

Terrorism is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, acts of violence have always been used as a means in order to achieve political or ideological objectives against states. Some of the most forthcoming groups in history have been the Zealots against the Romans during the first century, the Assassins of Hassan Sabbah during the 11th century, the IRA, the infamous Guy Fawkes, al-Qaida and Daesh. Each act of violence perpetrated by groups and their followers form a wide-ranging nature of terrorist acts from bombings, stabbings, hijackings, suicide bombings and boils down to one issue: Studies on terrorism is multi-faceted and there is no single explanation, theory or concrete approach that can encompass and fully account for all acts of terrorism. Thus, making it difficult to categorize these types of crimes as well as its causes and explanations.

Once a crime is committed, whether it be homicide, sexual assault, abduction or theft, the crime scene is closely examined in which physical evidence is collected. A close investigation into victimology - the study of the victim of the crime - assists police and crime analysts to also understand the motive of the offender. A complete understanding of why the crime occurred, why that specific victim was chosen, whether the victim was one of opportunity or specifically chosen, what the evidence tells us and the profile of the offender will provide us the anatomy of his motive. Another crucial step that is used for the purposes of eliminating and further narrowing down a possible list of suspects is the behavioral analysis of the crime and criminal. In the absence of a solid suspect, criminalists may request the assistance of forensic psychologists to deduce psychological and behavioral cues that may be reflected at the crime scene. In cases where the suspect is unknown, the "how" and "why" of the crime in question assists in providing the answer of "who" in such crimes. This approach is also called the criminal profiling of the offender.

The motivation of criminals in committing a crime is crucial in terms of understanding the psychological and social processes that push that individual to commit the act. In cases of terrorism, political or ideological motivations are always clear-cut. In such incidents, we will always be given a statement during the actual offence or afterwards via official statements from the terror organizations "owning up" to the act of terrorism. Although a statement was given by the terrorist in capital Ankara during the commission of the crime, there are some salient points that surface regarding the profile of the offender and the commission of the crime.

On Monday evening, we witnessed the first unfortunate images of the terrorist attack on Ambassador Karlov. In the first photo that was published, a figure in a dark suit, holding a pistol was seen close to the body of the victim on the floor. However, at the early moments of the incident, no one was able to report whether he was the offender or a police bodyguard until later when further video images and information were leaked from the scene.

What we later watched was a lone gunman standing on stage, shooting nine rounds at the ambassador during his speech at 7:05 p.m. He then raises his left hand, points his finger and screams "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest). He continues to scream Arabic words, which are translated as, "We are the ones who pledged allegiance to Muhammad, to wage jihad." The terrorist then switches to the Turkish language and screams, "Don't forget Aleppo. Don't forget Syria. Unless our towns are secure, you won't enjoy security. Only death can take me from here. Everyone who is involved in this suffering will pay a price."

The incident then continues as the offender pulls down all of the photographs on the walls and smashes them on the ground. The first team of police, who arrive at the scene at 7:27 p.m., ask him to stand down which he refuses. A shoot-out takes place with the offender, in which Altıntaş is shot in the leg four times. While Altıntaş continues to shoot at the police on scene, the Special Forces team arrives and asks him once more to stand down. The shoot-out continues and ends with the Special Forces shooting him down at 7:42 p.m. The police found that Altıntaş had three more full magazines and a suicide note was also found on him.

The initial impression of the attack can be observed to be a radical and ideological assassination of the ambassador. However, there are many discrepancies in how such an act of radical terrorism would have been carried out. Let us take a closer look at these discrepancies.

The offender is a 22-year-old Turkish police officer from the western province of Aydın. He attended the schools of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) and was sponsored throughout his studies. He then went onto study at the Police College in western İzmir province and became a police officer. His friends from school claimed that he was an ardent follower of the Gülen Movement. According to investigations into his cellphone so far, police have been able to establish connections with FETÖ and no other radical organization - contrary to the image he attempted to portray during his attack. A search of his home revealed absolutely no preparations and only a single Islamic book, which can hardly radicalize a young man of his background. In a religiously-motivated attack, what should have been found in his home - if he had been so effected by the Syrian war - would have been months and even years of preparation, Islamic books and resources, newspaper clippings of attacks and deaths in Syria and photos of the Russian and other foreign envoys who he mentioned in his suicide note.

Such mission-oriented killers have a specific profile. Most assassins avoid eye contact and are functional paranoids. They are unstable and do not have healthy social relationships. The attacks that they undertake are not impulsive crimes but involve meticulous planning over a period of weeks, months and even years of fantasizing. They generally experience abuse during their childhoods and develop the notion that they have been mistreated and disregarded by people. These feelings that humiliate them are then followed by feelings of resentment and hatred toward their targets. However, in reality with this offender, what we see is a young man, who got an education and who comes from a stable family with good ties. What seems to be missing is an individual, who lacks a stable relationship and a job, and who has kept a very detailed diary, expressing all the injustices taking place in Syria, his fantasies, hatred and plans against all those who he perceives to be responsible for all the injustice. These types of offenders generally prefer written communication as they have always been isolated and are loners and it is through these written communications to himself that he will express himself. What is more intriguing is the fact that there have never been any letters of protest and condemnation sent to the Russian or American embassies. And yet, he portrays himself to be something he is not. So the "glorious" speech on Syria all seems to be nothing but some form of window-dressing with intended implications against the Turkish Police Force and Turkish State.

The speech and body language of the offender during the attack is also one that seems problematic in itself. A Turkish-born and raised individual from the western province of Aydın, raises his left hand and pronounces "Allahu Akbar" in an Arabic accent and also writes it in the same manner in the suicide note he has left behind. This behavior and speech is highly problematic and unlikely to come from such a profile as the offender in question.

What we can confidently state is the fact that Altıntaş did not intend to come out alive from this attack. He was psychologically and physically prepared for his death, just as he clearly states shortly after he shoots the ambassador. This is always expected from mission-oriented killers where they will always save a bullet for themselves for the end of their rampage or intend for suicide-by-cop, where they intentionally force a confrontation with Special Forces, who have no other choice but to take them down.

The whole incident and problems surrounding the profile of the offender distinctly raises one question: Was this really a radical and ideologically motivated attack on a foreign envoy with the intention of raising awareness about the Syrian people? Based on the investigations of the past week and the profile of the offender, it seems that there was more to this assassination. Altıntaş's profile seems more suitable as a brainwashed kamikaze, who was chosen and "groomed" to sacrifice himself for FETÖ's personal agendas. The offender's background and the evidence following police investigations during the past week have shed light onto his continuous contact with FETÖ. What needs to further be investigated is his developed social networks and bonds during his education years both in high school and at the police college and all his communications with the individuals he has had during these years need to be carefully examined in order to understand his real intentions and those behind him. Manipulated brainwashing, in which individuals are inserted alien thoughts, is how a normal and stable individual can be turned into a violent terrorist. These grooming procedures of terrorists will have begun during their education years. Therefore, social bonds and role models need to be closely investigated as it is these relationships that always precede ideological commitments. The intentional staging of a single Islamic book at home, the awkwardly-memorized Arabic scripture and shockingly fake chanting of "Allahu Akbar" with an unrealistic accent is nothing but a decoy to stage and portray the whole attack as a radical act for the international audience.

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