ISTANBUL / ANKARA / DAMASCUS
Fallout from a bomb at the Turkish-Syrian border continues, with Syrian rebels claiming the blast was directed at them as authorities start their inquiries and Turkey’s opposition blames the government for the explosion
The deadly blast on the Turkey-Syria border aimed to target a Syrian National Council (SNC) opposition delegation, the group said yesterday, as the death toll from the incident increased to 14.
George Sabra, a member of the SNC, told reporters yesterday in Istanbul that the “largest group” of SNC executives to date, consisting of 13 members, had made a four-day-long trip to Syria. When they were on their way back from Syria, the trip was delayed for thirty minutes in order to stop for prayers, according to Sabra. He said the blast occurred near the white van, which was also the same van they had used for the trip.
Earlier in the day, the group claimed “Syrian regime tools” had carried out the bombing, describing it as the latest of the “regime’s crimes.”
“We stopped at a gas station, and some of our group went to a small mosque to pray there for half an hour,” Sabra told CNN. “My mother always said to me, ‘God bless you.’ Maybe this time He responded to her.”
SNC Turkey representative Khaled Khoja confirmed on the phone that Sabra and an accompanying group was on its way back from a three-day visit to Syria, adding that the blast had taken place only shortly before they passed through. The group had a break for prayers, which delayed their crossing for a short period of time, Khoja said, citing members of the group.
Meanwhile, the death toll in the explosion increased to 14 while three suspects, including one woman, were seen in video footage of the car blast, Interior Minister Muammer Güler said yesterday.
Güler told reporters that the death toll increased to 14 and also said the terrorist was “probably a Syrian national,” referring to “terrorism” for the first time since the incident took place.
Turkish police investigations are focusing on three people seen leaving the minibus shortly before the explosion.
The car that exploded came from the Syrian side and three people had left the car parked near the border gate before the blast, Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said.
Atalay said the explosion happened while humanitarian aid was being loaded, which meant that the area was crowded. “A car with Syrian plates comes and waits there for a while. There are three people in the car. They leave the car. Approximately 20 minutes later the car, laden with explosives, is made to explode. We have seriously wounded people … We have video footage. Both prosecutors and the police are working on [the case],” Atalay said.
The interior, justice and customs ministers flew to the area late Feb. 11 to be briefed on the incident.
Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazici told a news conference that security would be increased at the border, but humanitarian aid would continue to be sent across, Anatolia news agency reported.
Second Army Commander Galip Mendi also inspected the Cilvegözü Border Gate yesterday. Mendi and an accompanying delegation first visited the people wounded from the blast at the Antakya State Hospital and then inspected the site where the explosion took place.