Turkey blames Syria for deadly twin blasts; Damascus rejects 'false accusations'
Turkish authorities arrest nine citizens in connection with bombings that killed more than 40 and wounded some 100; Turkish FM says attack had nothing to do with refugees, everything to do with Assad regime.
Turkey said on Sunday it believed fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad were behind twin car bombings that killed 46 people and wounded 100 more in a Turkish border town, but Damascus swiftly denied the allegations.
Authorities have detained nine Turkish citizens in connection to the attack, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said on Sunday. Interior Minister Muammer Guler, who was also speaking on Turkish television, said the attacks on Saturday were carried out by a group known to the Turkish authorities and with direct links to Syria's Mukhabarat intelligence agency.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said those involved in the bombings in the border town Reyhanli on Saturday were thought also to have carried out an attack on the Syrian coastal town of Banias a week ago, in which fighters backing Assad were reported to have killed at least 62 people.
"The attack has nothing to do with the Syrian refugees in Turkey; it's got everything to do with the Syrian regime," Davutoglu said in an interview on TRT television.
"We should be careful against ethnic provocations in Turkey and Lebanon after the Banias massacre," he said.
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zubi denied any Syrian involvement and rejected what he called "false accusations".
"This is not the behavior of the Syrian government," he said, adding: "The Turkish government should be held responsible for what happened ... It has turned the border areas into a center for international terrorism. [Prime Mnister] Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to step down. He must not build his glory on the blood of Turks and Syrians."
Zoubi's comments were the first official Syrian response since Saturday's bombings in Reyhanli. Immediately following the blast, Turkey's deputy prime minister said Syria's intelligence and military were "the usual suspects" behind the bombings but that authorities were still investigating the attacks.
The blasts, which were 15 minutes apart, raised fears that Syria's brutal civil war violence was crossing into its neighbor.
One of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office in Reyhanli, a main hub for Syrian refugees and rebel activity in Turkey's Hatay province, just across the border. Images showed people frantically carrying victims through the rubble-strewn streets to safety.
The Syrian conflict, now in its third year, has inflamed a confrontation between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in the Middle East, with Shi'ite Iran supporting Assad and Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia backing the rebels.
Syria shares a more than 500-mile border with Turkey, which has been a crucial supporter of the Syrian rebel cause.
Banias is a Sunni pocket in the midst of a large Alawite enclave on Syria's Mediterranean coast, and activists in the area accuse militias loyal to Assad, an Alawite, of ethnic attacks. Reyhanli also has a significant Sunni population, including thousands of Syrians, and has served as a logistics base and staging center for Syrian insurgents fighting the Assad regime.