AMSTERDAM (AP) – As an off-duty policeman who had just assassinated Russia’s ambassador to Turkey stood in front of Burhan Ozbilici waving a gun, the veteran Associated Press photographer summoned the composure to stand his ground and keep taking pictures.
“I immediately decided to do my job because I could be wounded, maybe die, but at least I have to represent good journalism,” Ozbilici said Monday as his image of gunman Mevlut Mert Altintas looming over the body of Ambassador Andrei Karlov was named World Press Photo of the Year.
Ozbilici’s image of a political murder’s immediate aftermath was part of a series titled “An Assassination in Turkey” that also won the Spot News – Stories category in the prestigious awards. The photos were captured in the moments before and after Altintas drew a handgun and shot Karlov at an Ankara gallery on Dec. 19.
“Burhan’s striking image was the result of skill and experience, composure under extreme pressure and the dedication and sense of mission that mark AP journalists worldwide,” AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said. “We are enormously proud of his accomplishment.”
In the winning photo, the assassin, wearing a suit and tie, stands defiantly, pistol in his right hand pointed at the ground and with his left hand raised, his index finger pointing upward. His mouth is wide open as he shouts angrily.
The ambassador’s body lies on the floor just behind Altintas.
Pacing near the body of his victim, the gunman appeared to condemn Russia’s military role in Syria, shouting: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” Altintas, who was a policeman, was later killed in a shootout with Turkish police.
Ozbilici said his professional instincts kicked in despite the shocking scene unfolding in front of him.
Explaining how he remained collected enough to keep taking pictures, he said: “I understood that this was big history, it was history, (a) very, very important incident.”