Turkey is investigating a car-bomb attack near its border with Syria that left 14 people dead and heightened fears that the Syrian civil war may spill over into its neighbor.
The death toll from yesterday’s explosion at the Cilvegozu border crossing rose to 14, state-run TRT television said today, and more than two dozen were injured. Turkey’s Interior Minister Muammer Guler called the blast an “act of terror.” The rebels seized the Syrian border post across from Cilvegozu in July.
Turkey is “vigilantly protecting its border with Syria,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his party’s lawmakers in parliament today. “Turkey will take the necessary steps” when investigations reveal more about the incident, he said.
The target of the attack was the motorcade of Syrian National Council leader George Sabra, Al Arabiya television said. Sabra was about to cross the border through Cilvegozu and escaped the attack when his motorcade stopped for a break, Today’s Zaman newspaper said, citing unidentified members of Syrian opposition groups.
Turkey has sided with the Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, who has accused Turkey of providing them with military support. NATO missile-defense batteries have been deployed at Turkey’s request to reinforce security at its Syrian border.
Three suspects, thought to be Syrians, have been identified, Guler said. Authorities will deploy a mobile X-ray machine at the gate to boost security after the attack, the state-run Anatolia agency said, citing Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici.
Hursit Gunes, an opposition lawmaker, complained on Twitter that a court classified video footage of the explosion after his party petitioned to watch it.
Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a televised news conference that there were many “question marks” about the attack. “A vehicle with Syrian license plates with three people in it arrived from Syria and parked,” he said. “They left 20 minutes before the explosion.”
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said the vehicle parked some 20 meters (yards) away from the Turkish customs office and a Turkish army border unit.
“There is a proxy war between Turkey and Syria,” said Nihat Ali Ozcan, a security analyst at the Economic Policy Research Foundation in Ankara. “This attack is a harbinger of more violence near or even inside Turkey as long as Assad remains in power.”
Assad’s agents, Syrian rebels, Kurdish militants and militants from the Islamist Al-Nusra Front are active just across the border, Ozcan said.
The attack coincided with a renewed offer by Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib, who said that he’s willing to meet Assad’s government in rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Syria’s government ignored his earlier offer, which set a condition that prisoners be released.