Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler on Wednesday denied allegations that Turkish forces carried out a cross-border operation in Syria to capture suspects allegedly involved in a blast at the Turkish-Syrian border gate of Cilvegozu that killed 14 people last month.
"No Turkish security officers from the national police department carried out such an operation abroad. The people in question were detained at the [border] gate," Guler told reporters in Ankara when asked whether Turkish security forces conducted an operation in Syria to capture the Cilvegozu suspects.
Guler's response came in reply to a claim that appeared in the Turkish press on Wednesday that the suspects were captured after security forces crossed into Syrian territory. Reports said a special group of 10 people from the security forces conducted the operation.
Five suspects, including four Syrians and one Turk, were detained by Turkish security officers on Monday and were later referred to court for arrest for their alleged involvement in the blast in the southern province of Hatay in which 14 people, including three Turkish citizens, were killed and at least 28 were injured.
"The suspects were detained at the border gate [within the borders of Turkey] following close surveillance by police. Our police department and intelligence unit worked in great coordination with judicial units. Tens of thousands of photographs were examined and facial recognition technology and other techniques such as GSM tracking and legal wiretapping were used to get this result. I want to emphasize once again that there was no operation conducted within the borders of Syria [to capture the suspects]," Guler said.
The interior minister earlier said that the suspects are linked to the Syrian regime. Two of them reportedly directly staged the attack while the three others are believed to have aided and abetted the two. The suspects later revealed during questioning that they were paid $35,000 by people connected to al-Mukhabarat, Syria's intelligence agency.
"We know that the suspects had also intended to conduct similar attacks. That's why we increased efforts to secure the country's border," Guler said, adding that the investigation into the Cilvegozu incident is ongoing.
Asked whether the Turkish units were aided by foreign forces during the operation, Guler said: "There are many channels to coordinate with during such operations. One or more might have been used." Allegations emerged after the operation to capture the bombing suspects that the Turkish forces were aided by al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the most disciplined anti-Assad forces in Syria.
Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arınc also spoke about the operation to capture the bombing suspects on Wednesday, saying, "I know everything [about the operation], but I cannot say anything."
Speaking to journalists following the start of the new academic year ceremony at Gazi University on Wednesday, Arınc responded to a question about his earlier remarks that the security units had conducted an operation that could easily be made into an action movie, saying he wasn't ready to give any details but knew what happened.
Questioned about Guler's remarks that no operation was carried out in Syrian territory, he said: "Muammer Guler is not denying what I said. He also said that most of what the press writes regarding the operation isn't true."