AMSTERDAM – Images that captured the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey with the photographer just feet away from the gun-wielding assailant earned a fearless cameraman the prestigious World Press Photo award on Monday.
The photographs were taken by Turkish photojournalist Burhan Ozbilici on Dec. 19, 2016, when off-duty police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas first stood behind and then shot and fatally wounded Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov at an art exhibition in Ankara.
“When the gunman shouted ‘Allahu Akbar,’ I was really scared because I wasn’t sure if there were others with him who would go on to shoot innocent people, as had happened in so many places before, Ozbilici said. As he moved a little bit away, I got in closer to get in a better position to photograph him,” he added in a statement published by World Press Photo.
Stuart Franklin, chair of the 2017 World Press Photo jury, congratulated the photojournalist on the award, noting that he had carried out his work heroically and put his own life at risk.
Ozbilici, who has been working for the Associated Press for 28 years, said of the incident that he had been presented with two options – either to stay and carry out his work as a journalist or run.
Deciding on his responsibility to journalism, he chose to stay where he was, with his camera, despite the gunman brandishing his weapon.
“I remember thinking: ‘I might be killed or injured, but the Russian ambassador has been shot. This is very big news, so as a journalist it is my responsibility to stand and do my work,’” Ozbilici said.
Although Ozbilici acknowledged his fear, he said he had felt the support of his colleagues and journalists around the world.
Ozbilici said he had seen how the gunman had walked up to the stricken ambassador and shot him again as he was splayed on the floor.
“Then he came closer to us and pointed his gun again. I was scared that now he would fire, so I was not moving too fast,” Ozbilici said. “I was extremely calm: running away wasn’t a solution, it wasn’t safe.”
The jury, who received more than 80,400 images, said in a statement that choosing the image depicting the terror attack as the photograph of the year was “a very very difficult decision” that reflected “the hatred of our times.”