Turkey yesterday said it has arrested nine people over the twin car bombings that left at least 46 people dead in a Turkish town near the Syrian border, as Damascus rejected allegations that it was behind the attack.
Cranes were seen lifting debris from buildings destroyed by Saturday’s blasts in Reyhanli, a major Turkish hub for Syrian refugees and rebels.
The attacks were the deadliest to hit Turkey since the Syria conflict began two years ago and apparently provoked a backlash against Syrian refugees as dozens of cars were wrecked by rampaging crowds, witnesses said.
The Reyhanli blasts have raised fears that Turkey has been drawn into the Syrian conflict. Can Dundar, a columnist at Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper, wrote: “Turkey seems to be sinking into the Syrian swamp ... It has become a stakeholder in this civil war by directly supporting the opposition.”
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a televised news conference yesterday that nine people have been held for questioning over the bombings, saying there have been confessions and that the suspects belong to “a terrorist organization in contact with Syrian intelligence.”
Atalay also said that 38 of the 46 people killed in the blasts have been identified, of whom 35 were Turkish and three were Syrian.
Officials say dozens more were injured in the explosions.
“We have identified those who organized it, those who carried out recognition [efforts], those who placed the vehicles,” Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler said.
Syria yesterday rejected claims that it was behind the attack.
“Syria did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi told a press conference broadcast by state television.
“It is [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan who should be asked about this act ... He and his party bear direct responsibility,” al-Zohbi said.
Turkey, a member of NATO, distanced itself from its erstwhile ally soon after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad started cracking down on pro-democracy protests in 2011.
Ankara has since become a rear base for the Syrian rebellion and Damascus has already been blamed for a string of attacks in Turkey.
The bombings sowed panic in Reyhanli.
“I heard the first blast, walked out, thinking it was a missile being fired from Syria. Then I found myself on the ground, my arms and right leg hurting, my ears ringing. It must have been the second bomb,” said Hikmet Haydut, a 46-year-old coffee shop owner who had minor injuries to his head and body. “I am alive, but all I have is gone.”