Interior Minister Muammer Guler has said four new suspects have been detained in connection with twin car bombs in Hatay's Reyhanlı district, bringing the total number of those under custody to 13, and drawing Turkey closer to fully illuminating the bombings Today`s Zaman reported.
According to the minister, "meticulous efforts" are ongoing to shed light on the bombings. "The masterminds and perpetrators of the attack have been identified. Efforts are ongoing to capture them, too. Suspects detained so far aided and abetted the attacks. They either monitored the sites of bombings or helped attackers who carried out the attack enter Turkey," he said, adding that the state knows which terrorist group the attack was carried out the attacks, but did not elaborate.
On Saturday, one of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office in the town of Reyhanlı, a main hub for Syrian refugees and opposition activity in Turkey's Hatay province. Fifty-one people were killed and as many as 100 injured in the bombings. The bodies of the 46 dead were retrieved from the sites of the bombings on Saturday while the bodies of four other victims were discovered on Monday and Tuesday.
Nine people were immediately taken into custody for suspected links to the terrorist attack. All suspects are Turkish citizens. Five of the captured suspects are members of the terrorist Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C), while the remaining four are members of Acilciler, a splinter faction of the Turkish Peoples Liberation Party/Front (THKP/C) operating in the border provinces of Turkey.
The other four suspects were detained early on Tuesday.
The interior minister later delivered a speech in Parliament to brief deputies about the investigation into the attack. He said the Hatay Police Department reported that it had received tips about plans for a major bomb attack on May 8. "Necessary directives [to step up security measures] were given to all security units across the country. The intelligence tips did not directly point to Reyhanlı. So required measures were taken in many parts of the country, including Hatay," he said, adding that the bombs were planted in two vehicles that were being hidden inside a depot for a long while.
Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated accusations that the Syrian regime had masterminded the attack, which he said was carried out by a group of attackers, who are mostly Turks.
"The powers behind the attack and its sub-contractors have mostly been identified ... Thirteen suspects have been taken into custody in connection with the attack. Their interrogation is ongoing." In addition, the prime minister vowed "action" once it is clarified by whom or by which country the bombings were orchestrated. "We will make the masterminds pay the price [for the attacks]. We have the power, will and experience to do that. But we will act with common sense just as any big state would do in such a condition," he remarked.
According to the prime minister, the dead toll in the attack rose to 51, with three being Syrian refugees. "The remains of 39 victims were given to their families, and they were buried. Efforts are ongoing to identify the remaining victims. Currently there are 48 injured receiving treatment at hospitals. Forty-one are Turkish and seven are Syrian," he said, adding that 17 of the injured are in a critical condition.
Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay also announced that currently there are 13 suspects in custody in connection with the bombings, but added that there are several others to be captured. "We do not cite to-be-captured suspects' names or to which organization they belong as efforts are ongoing to spot their locations," he stated.
In addition, Hatay Governor Celalettin Lekesiz spoke to reporters and said the number of detentions in connection with the bombings continues to rise as the police try to find out the real masterminds and perpetrators of the attack. The governor also said the attack was not carried out by Syrian refugees in Turkey or the Syrian opposition. "Those who carried out and helped carry out the attack are our [Turkish] citizens ... So, I ask the public to avoid any attempt of provocation to punish Syrian refugees for the attack," he stated.
In the meantime, police sources have said three of the suspects are Syrian citizens and the explosives were brought into the country from Syria's coastal city of Latakia. The attackers reportedly received 5 million Syrian lira (approximately TL 128,000) for the attack. The attackers hired a depot in the Harbiye neighborhood to hide the bomb-laden vehicles.
The police found that a team of 17 people masterminded and carried out the bloody attack. Efforts are ongoing to capture the remaining four suspects. Three of them are reportedly Syrian. As many as one ton of TNT and C3 explosives were used in the bombings. The explosives were brought into Turkey from Latakia by sea. The explosives initially arrived in Hatay's Samandag district and were later transported to Reyhanlı. The captured attackers said they monitored and checked the attack sites several times before, and in return they received 5 million Syrian lira. The explosives were blown up using remote controls by three Syrian attackers, who are suspected to have fled back to their country after the attack.
The police force and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) set up a 10-member team to capture the fleeing eight attackers. The team is reportedly cooperating with the Free Syrian Army to capture the attackers.
Many Turkish government officials blamed the attack on the Syrian regime.
Violence has spilled over the Turkish-Syrian border before. In February, a minibus blew up at a border crossing near Reyhanlı, killing 14 people and wounding dozens more.
In October, five Turkish civilians were killed in Akcakale when a mortar bomb fired from Syria landed on their house, prompting Turkey to fire back across the frontier.
According to some sources, the order for the bombings came from Mihrac Ural, who is from Turkey, but is living under asylum in Syria. Ural is a long-time fugitive wanted by the Turkish law enforcement. He commanded a large-scale massacre committed by Syrian regime forces in Baniyas, a predominantly Sunni city on the Mediterranean coast of Syria.
Being a leader of the THKP/C and its deadly splinter faction, Acilciler, which was established in the 1970s, Ural is also remembered as a figure who initiated anti-Turkey meetings in the southern province of Hatay last year. He is also reported to have led an armed group called "Resistance" inside Syria. He left Turkey for Syria after the 1980 coup d'état and is reported to have close ties with the Syrian intelligence agency, Mukhabarat, which helped him obtain Syrian citizenship.
Ural, however, denied the claims. In an interview with BBC's Turkish service, Ural asserted that Israeli intelligence is behind the bombings. He added that Reyhanlı bombings are organized to pull Turkey into the Middle East quagmire.
"There is no humanity in these bombings. It is a job of barbaric, dark minds. I strongly condemn this incident," Ural told the BBC. Ural claimed that he has no goal of killing innocent people, adding that he has not been in Turkey for more than 30 years.
TSK denies claims of negligence
The General Staff issued a statement on its official website on Monday, denying claims that the military failed to prevent the attack in Reyhanlı.
According to the statement, the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) is not responsible for ensuring security at border gates. However, the General Staff said, the TSK is responsible for ensuring the security of land frontiers. "Official statements are made from the General Staff's websites about individuals captured while unlawfully passing the frontiers or elements or good captured while illegally smuggled into the country," read the statement.
In the meantime, on Monday a group of about 150 demonstrators in northwestern İzmit province protested against the Reyhanlı attack. Police tried to disperse the group with tear gas when the group turned violent and attacked police. Sixteen protestors were taken into custody.