|Location||Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, Turkey|
|Date||11 May 2013
|Dual car bombings|
The Reyhanlı bombings took place on 11 May 2013, when two car bombs exploded in the town of Reyhanlı, a town of 64,000 people, 5 km from the Syrian border and the busiest land border post with Syria, in Hatay Province, Turkey. At least 51 people were killed and 140 injured in the attack.
There’s no clarity as to who is responsible for the attack. Options that have been suggested and defended (see section "Responsibility") are: the Syrian government; the al-Nusra Front; Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL); Acilciler—Turks with ties to Syrian groups—whose leader has implicated the Turkish Intelligence Organization.
Following the bombings, hundreds of Syrians felt constrained to flee Reyhanli, and some residents blamed the Turkish government for bringing the war in Syria to the town.
Many Syrian refugees have passed through the town while fleeing from the civil war in their own country. The nearby Cilvegözü–Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing, which is controlled on the Syrian side by rebels, is the busiest crossing point between the two countries.
On 3 October 2012, mortar fire from Syria killed five people in the Turkish border town of Akçakale. On 11 February 2013, the gate of the Cilvegözü–Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing was the scene of a deadly attack, when an explosion killed 17 people and injured 30 more.
Two car bombs were left outside Reyhanlı's town hall and post office. The first exploded at around 13:45 EEST (10:45 UTC), and the second about 5 minutes later. People attempting to help those injured in the first explosion were caught in the second blast.
A Cumhuriyet journalist reported controversy over the number of fatalities. It was suspected by some[which?] news sources that government and local officials had instructed local health care workers to limit the death toll to 50, while the real number was 177.
While some Syrian refugees were caught in the blasts, the majority of the fatalities involved were local Turks. Although there is still no information about the names of the dead, local officials revealed their nationalities, and stated that 5 of 52 people killed by the attacks were Syrian.
Several options have been raised for the responsibility for the attack.
Syrian government or Mukhabarat
On Saturday 11 May 2013, Turkey's two Deputy Prime Ministers Bülent Arınç and Besir Atalay said the Syrian “Mukhabarat (military intelligence service) and armed organizations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans" and Turkish voices accused Syria to be ‘behind the attacks’.
Syria, by the mouth of Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, immediately denied responsibility for the attacks, stating: "Syria (…) would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that."
Turkish authorities on 11 May said they had detained nine Turks with links to the Syrian Mukhabarat (military intelligence service), as suspects of the bombings. Prime Minister Erdogan said on 13 May also that he held the Syrian government responsible. By 21 May, Turkey had charged 12 Turkish nationals with the attacks, whom they believed to be backed by the Syrian government.
On 25 May 2013, Erdogan repeated his accusation of the Syrian regime being behind the attack.
The Turkish Mr. Nasir Eskiocak, captured by the Turkish police on 10 June 2013 and then for a while prime suspect of the attack, said the attack was ordered by the Syrian Mukhabarat (military intelligence service), and then organized by him.
Al-Nusra Front / al-Qaeda / ISIL
Mehmet Ali Ediboglu (CHP), representing Hatay Province in the Turkish parliament, said on 14 May 2013 he believed the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) to have planted the bombs, in an attempt “to get Turkey into the war”.
- ‘Al-Qaeda elements’:
On 25 May 2013, the Turkish hacker group RedHack alleged that leaked or hacked documents of Turkey’s Gendarmerie intelligence department linked al-Qaeda-related groups in Syria to the attack, which was denied by Justice and Development Party (AKP) vice president Hüseyin Çelik. Çelik stated that the documents were leaked by a private using a cell phone but its content is unrelated to the bombings and the private is under arrest.
On 27 March 2014, also Tacan İldem, Turkey’s Ambassador to the OCSE, said the 11 May 2013 attack was carried out by “al-Qaeda elements operating out of Syria”, which, in May 2013, may have meant either Jabhat al-Nusra or ISIL. That statement was contradicted on 6 April 2014 in a written statement of the Turkish Foreign Ministry who stuck to their conviction that the attack was carried out with support from the Syrian government.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in late September 2013, while threatening Turkey with suicide attacks if Turkey would not reopen its Syrian border crossings at Bab al-Hawa and Bab al-Salameh before 7 October, claimed responsibility for the Reyhanli attack of 11 May 2013.
Acilciler versus Turkish government
Turkish authorities on 12 May 2013 suspected that former Turkish Marxist group Acilciler, now thought to be based in Syria, might have been revived by his leader Mihraç Ural, and might have ordered the attack. Acilciler was, according to The Huffington Post, long-rumored to have been formed by the Syrian military intelligence service Mukhabarat. The Turkish government on 12 May 2013 believed that Ural and his group, with their ties to pro-government Syrian groups, had carried out the attack. Mihraç Ural, in return, has implicated the Turkish Intelligence Organization.
There was widespread panic in Reyhanlı following the blasts, with many people attempting to flee the town. Clashes broke out between Turkish and Syrian people in Reyhanlı, and police were forced to intervene by firing into the air to disperse the crowds. Turkish residents of the town reportedly attacked Syrian refugees and automobiles with Syrian license plates.
BBC Journalist Wyre Davies reported from the site of the bombings in Reyhanli that there was 'real anger' among the people on the streets, not just against whoever had carried out the attacks but also against the government in Ankara. Hundreds of Syrian refugees had been forced to leave, 'scapegoats for the crimes of others' in Davies' account, blamed for bringing the Syrian war to the town. The refugees were held to have made the town a target for Assad's agents in Turkey. The media also were unpopular. "Whoever carried out the bombings has deliberately and successfully driven a wedge between two communities who had always coexisted, even before the war, because of cross-border trade and other historic ties", the journalist wrote.
In response to the attacks, the Turkish government sent large numbers of air and ground forces increasing the already heavy military presence in the area.
Protesters clashed with police in the town on Saturday, 18 May, voicing their anger over the government's response to the attack and its decision to take in Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian conflict.
Turkey sealed the border with Syria for one month in order to stop possible suspects from escaping.
The Reyhanlı Court of Peace ordered all voice, written, and visual publications referring to the blasts' aftermath banned, including content describing, and images of, the injured and the dead. The court ruled that the written and visual content would jeopardize the confidentiality and outcome of the ongoing prosecution. On 16 May 2013, the Hatay First Criminal Court cancelled the order issued by the Reyhanlı Court of Peace. Only the state-run Anatolia news agency and Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) were allowed to cover visits by Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu to the injured in Antakya State Hospital. When the main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, of the Republican People's Party (CHP), visited the victims at the same hospital on Monday, only reporters from Anatolia and TRT were allowed to cover Kılıçdaroğlu's visit, while reporters from the Cihan News Agency, the İhlas News Agency and the Doğan News Agency were not allowed to do so.
Several media unions protested the media ban imposed on the Reyhanlı bombings and appealed to the courts to remove the ban immediately. The media ban was condemned by several journalistic organizations in Turkey. Atilla Sertel, the chairperson of the Journalists Federation of Turkey, stated that such bans would cause major misinformation and would result in misleading the public. The Press Institute Association of Turkey claimed the court order upholding the ban was a censure and a major blow to press freedom.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said, "There may be those who want to sabotage Turkey's peace, but we will not allow that. No one should attempt to test Turkey's power. Our security forces will take all necessary measures." Speaking in Berlin, he said that the bombings were a consequence of global inaction in intervening in the Syrian civil war.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi placed responsibility for the attacks on the Turkish authorities and said, "it was the Turkish government that had facilitated the flow of arms, explosives, vehicles, fighters and money across the border into Syria", and thus "had turned the border areas into centres for international terrorism".
The UN Security Council strongly condemned the Reyhanli bombings, stating, "Any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed." NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also condemned the attack, calling it "despicable", and said that NATO stood by Turkey.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a Twitter statement saying, "My thoughts are with family and friends of the victims. We stand with the people of Turkey." United States Ambassador Francis Ricciardone stated that the U.S. "strongly condemns today's vicious attack, and stands with the people and government of Turkey to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice."
Turkish officials were accused of destroying evidence and imposing blanket censorship about the event.
In July 2013, several MİT intelligence officials were dismissed for negligence, after an inquiry concluded that MİT had had sufficient information to prevent the attack, but had failed to share it with police quickly enough.
- List of Islamist terrorist attacks
- Syria–Turkey relations
- Syrian–Turkish border incidents during the Syrian civil war
- Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War
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