Turkey Detains 9, Alleges Syrian Link To Car Bombings
REYHANLI, Turkey (CNN) — Funeral prayers echoed across a small Turkish town Sunday after a pair of car bombings that killed dozens of people, an attack that government officials are blaming on Syria.
The families of the dead huddled under umbrellas in the town cemetery to lay their loved ones to rest, while others cried in the middle of streets still strewn with broken glass and twisted metal.
Nine Turkish citizens were being held in connection with Saturday’s bombings in Reyhanli, along the Syrian border. But Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the people behind the bombings “were in contact with pro-Syrian regime Al Muhabarat (Syrian Intelligence Services) organization in Syria.”
“The organization is identified and for the most part the persons involved are identified,” Atalay said.
Syria’s information minister denied that his country had any involvement. He made the comments Sunday while speaking to journalists in Damascus on Syrian TV.
“We were saddened yesterday for the fall of martyrs in Turkey,” Omran al-Zoubi said Sunday in comments carried on Syrian TV. “In one way or another, Turkish people are the Syrian brothers.”
The bombings killed at least 46 people and wounded about 100, Turkish officials said. Of the 50 who remained hospitalized late Saturday, 29 were in critical condition, Interior Minister Muammer Guler said.
Turkey is trying to accomodate nearly 300,000 refugees from Syria’s 2-year-old civil war, according to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and the attacks fueled anger at some of the Syrians who have taken shelter in Reyhanli.
One Syrian trying to talk to CNN was stopped by two men on a motorcycle yelling, “Don’t talk to them” and “Go away.” They yelled at the Turkish man hosting Syrian refugees, “How can you let them talk?”
One Reyhanli resident, Abu Marwan, said Saturday that people began grabbing sticks and “going after Syrians” in the aftermath of the bombings.
“We almost have more Syrians here than Turks, and people are getting angry,” he said.
Blasts struck government buildings
The first blast occurred at about 1:55 p.m. Saturday at Reyhani’s city hall. A second, more powerful blast occurred in front of the post office.
In both cases, cars were loaded with large amounts of explosive material, according to Guler. There was a third explosion of a diesel fuel tank elsewhere in Reyhanli, but Guler said it was ruled an accident.
Marwan said the bombings left “body parts everywhere.”
“Buildings and the walls of buildings are collapsed,” he said. “The windows, the cars, everything is burned around it, people are burned. So many injured. The scene is outrageous, may God grant us peace.”
A video posted on YouTube showed a column of thick black smoke rising from the center of town; another video showed what appeared to be where one of the bombs exploded. Rescuers were pulling bloodied people from the street, the side of a building had been torn off, and the windows of the building across the rubble-crusted street had been blown out.
CNN is not able to confirm the videos’ authenticity.
The blast drew swift condemnation internationally, including from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who vowed that Washington will “stand with our ally, Turkey.”
Syrian opposition group: Regime fires shells toward Reyhanli
The report came shortly after the Local Coordination Committees for Syria, an opposition group, reported that Syrian government forces had fired several shells toward Reyhanli, which is in Turkey’s southern province of Hatay.
Several Syrians were among the casualties, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another opposition group.
The town’s location “carries sensitivity,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Saturday, according to the semiofficial news agency Anadolu.
“Around (20,000) to 25,000 Syrians live here in camps as our guests. Certain steps as in Reyhanli today may be taken to affect the sensitivity in Hatay by those not willing to accept the status quo.”
Turkey hosts more than 190,000 Syrian refugees in state-run camps, and more Syrians who have fled their country to Turkish cities and towns. In addition, Turkey has played a major role in providing assistance and a relatively safe springboard for operations to Syrian opposition groups.
The timing of the blasts came as momentum toward a resolution of the Syrian issue has grown, said Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, according to AA. “Such blasts taking place on Saturday were no coincidence,” he told reporters in Berlin, where he was on an official trip.
“It is high time for the international community to define a joint stance against a regime that uses every brutal method on its own people,” Davutoglu told reporters later Sunday, after talks with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle.
In a statement, the opposition Syrian National Coalition condemned the attacks.
“The Coalition sees these heinous terrorist acts as an attempt to take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honorable support for the Syrian people, including their welcoming of Syrian refugees who have fled the regime’s crimes in their villages and cities,” it said. “The Coalition views this attack as a desperate and failed attempt to sow discord between the two peoples.”
The conflict in Syria has repeatedly spilled across the border to Turkey, prompting Turkish security forces to reinforce the frontier. At Turkey’s request, the NATO military alliance deployed several Patriot missile batteries to protect Turkish border cities from the threat of Syrian missile attacks.
This story was reported by Gul Tuysuz in Rehanli and reported and written by Matt Smith in Atlanta. CNN’s Tom Watkins and Talia Kayali contributed to this report.