Turkey arrests suspects in deadly Syrian border blast

ANKARA Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:43am EDT

Damaged cars are seen after an explosion at Cilvegozu border gate near the town of Reyhanli on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province February 11, 2013, in this picture taken by Ihlas News Agency. REUTERS/Ihlas News Agency

Damaged cars are seen after an explosion at Cilvegozu border gate near the town of Reyhanli on the Turkish-Syrian border in Hatay province February 11, 2013, in this picture taken by Ihlas News Agency.

Credit: Reuters/Ihlas News Agency

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ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish authorities have detained four Syrians and a Turk in connection with a bomb attack at a crossing along the Turkey-Syria border last month, the interior minister said on Monday.

The suspects had links to Syrian security forces, minister Muammer Guler said.

A minibus with Syrian number plates exploded at the busy Cilvegozu border gate near the Turkish town of Reyhanli on February 11, opposite the rebel-held Syrian gate of Bab al-Hawa, killing 14 people and wounding dozens more.

Guler, speaking on Turkish television, said a request had been made to the court to formally detain four Syrians and one Turk. Three other people who had been arrested have since been released but one other suspect was still sought.

Two of the detainees arrived in the vehicle and carried out the attack while another one organized it, Guler said.

"We have determined they had links to Syrian intelligence and army officials, but this will become clear during the judicial process," he said.

While not directly accusing the Syrian government of being behind the blast, Guler's remarks about the suspects' links to Syrian security forces are likely to draw a rebuke from Damascus, which has accused Turkey of backing "terrorists" within its own borders.

Turkey has become one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's fiercest critics and a supporter of the two-year-old uprising against him. It harbors Syrian refugees and rebels and violence has sometimes spilled over the border.

Five Turkish civilians were killed in October when a mortar bomb hit a house in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.

Turkey also has responded in kind to gunfire and mortar rounds hitting its territory along the 910-km (565-mile) border and six NATO Patriot missile batteries are stationed there to defend it against attacks from Syria.

Tensions have increased in recent months after NATO said it had detected launches of short-range ballistic missiles inside Syria, several of which have landed close to the Turkish border. Turkey has scrambled warplanes along the frontier, fanning fears the war could spread and further destabilize the region.

(Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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