Turkish police arrested nine suspects in connection with an attack that killed 46 people in a town near the Syrian border, as the government blamed the twin car bombings on Turks with ties to Syrian intelligence.
“There are still a few people at large,” Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said, according to the state-run Anatolia news agency. Those responsible for the attacks were “traitors” inside Turkey, government spokesman Huseyin Celik said in an interview with TV24 television today. Turkish intelligence had warned regional officials about a potential attack, Celik said.
The car bombs are “totally related” to Syria and aim to incite sectarian clashes, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on state-TV. Progress has been made in the hunt for the bombers, Davutoglu said, adding that the group responsible has a history of operations in Turkey and is directly tied to the Syrian regime. The Syrian Resistance militia, led by a Turkish Alawite, Mihrac Ural, is believed to be behind the blasts, Yeni Safak newspaper reported, citing unnamed intelligence sources.
The car-bomb explosions in Reyhanli yesterday wounded about 100 people, Interior Minister Muammer Guler said in televised remarks. Fifty-two people are still being treated, with 26 of them in a serious condition, Celik said. News channels showed the charred wreckage of overturned cars and buildings reduced to smoking rubble after the attack.
A Turkish court banned broadcasting or publishing videos or images from the crime scene, the country’s broadcasting watchdog, RTUK, said on its website today. Celik said some journalists have been probed for violating the ban in the area.
“The group and its members who organized the attack are linked to the al-Mukhabarat, which supports the regime in Syria,” Atalay said yesterday, according to Anatolia. “The group is certain, and most of the people responsible are also certain,” he said, without providing further details. Al-Mukhabarat is Arabic for intelligence.
Davutoglu said that the car bombs and a massacre in the Syrian port city of Banias are linked. Between 250 and 1,000 civilians were massacred in Banias, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said May 7.
Syria denies involvement in the attacks, and Turkey needs to take responsibility for what happened, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said on State TV. Erdogan has no right “to build his glory on the blood of Turks and Syrians,” al-Zoubi said.
The bombings were the deadliest in recent Turkish history. In 2003, al-Qaeda bombings in Istanbul hit two synagogues, killing at least 27 people. Five days later the group set off bombs at an HSBC Holdings Plc building and the British consulate, killing at least 30. In 1993, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, killed 33 Turkish soldiers in an ambush, the group’s deadliest attack on record.
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned the “awful” bombings, saying in a statement that the U.S. stands “with our ally, Turkey.” The attack struck a personal note because of his close work with Turkey in his first three months as his country’s chief diplomat, he said.
Erdogan is scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on May 16. In an interview with NBC on May 9, Erdogan called on the U.S. to “assume more responsibilities and take further steps” to end the fighting in Syria.
Assad has used chemical weapons, crossing Obama’s so-called red line for a U.S. response, Erdogan told NBC, without saying how Turkey got the information.
Foreign Minister Davutoglu told reporters in Berlin yesterday that it was “not a coincidence” the explosions occurred at a critical time in efforts to end the Syrian conflict. The deepening conflict in Syria represents the breakdown of the United Nations Security Council system, since inaction by the international community benefits Assad, he said.
Turkey has sided with rebels fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has accused the Turkish government of providing them with military support, a claim Turkey denies. The nation’s artillery units have responded to shelling by Syrian forces since five Turks were killed in the border town of Akcakale on Oct. 3. Tensions escalated with Damascus, once an ally, after Assad’s forces shot down a Turkish plane in the east Mediterranean in June.
Turkey has opened its doors to more than 300,000 Syrians who fled the conflict. About 25,000 refugees live in camps in the area of the blasts, which may have been carried out by people opposed to Turkey’s safe haven or seeking to use their presence as a pretext for provocation, Erdogan said.
The anti-Assad Syrian National Coalition said the attacks are in retaliation against Turkey for its support of the opposition, according to an e-mailed statement. “This is a desperate and failed attempt to create a rift between the Turkish and Syrian people,” it said.
Assad is the “usual suspect” behind the bombings, Bulent Arinc, another Turkish deputy prime minister, said on NTV television yesterday. “A massacre was carried out,” he said. “If proven it was Assad, we will do whatever is required.”
The violence from the civil war in Syria has previously spilled over into its northern neighbor, where a Feb. 11 car-bomb attack at the Turkish border crossing of Cilvegozu killed 14 people, mostly Syrians, and injured more than two dozen.
In October, Turkey’s parliament approved a motion allowing the government to order military action against Syria, after a shell fired across the border killed five Turks.
“We have to be extremely careful in the face of every kind of provocation that aims to draw us into the bloody quagmire in Syria,” Anatolia agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “We are not going to lose our temper and common sense to fall in their trap.”
In a Damascus interview taped on April 2, Assad accused Erdogan of lying while harboring rebels fighting his government, and of cooperating with Israel against Syria.
“Turkey’s hands have been stained with blood in Syria,” Assad said.
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