ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey is investigating possible Syrian links to Monday’s deadly car bomb attack near its southeastern border, officials said on Tuesday, underscoring fears that the conflict in Syria is fuelling instability on its own territory.
A car packed with explosives blew up close to a police station in the industrial city of Gaziantep, around 50 km (30 miles) from the Syrian border, late on Monday, killing nine people including a 12-year-old child.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but senior ruling party officials in Turkey blamed the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Kurdish militants designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkey fears the PKK, which has waged an insurgency in the southeast for almost three decades, is exploiting chaos in Syria to expand its influence and has accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of supplying it with arms.
Firat News, a website close to the PKK, carried a statement from the group denying involvement in the attack, which took place during the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. But security sources said they believed Kurdish separatists were responsible.
“Another aim of this attack was to send a message about Turkey’s foreign policy. The attack was planned through the cooperation of the Mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence) and the PKK,” Samil Tayyar, a member of parliament for Gaziantep from Turkey’s ruling AK Party, told reporters.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was more cautious, saying that while possible Syrian links to Monday’s attack were being investigated, there was no concrete information so far.
“If there is a similarity, the methods and mentality of the terrorist organization and Bashar al-Assad’s forces are alike in killing civilians during Eid al-Fitr,” he told reporters in Ankara.
Ankara initially cultivated good relations with Assad’s administration but relations have deteriorated since the uprising against him began 17 months ago.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has become one of Assad’s harshest critics and has raised the possibility of military intervention in Syria if the PKK becomes a threat there.
“It’s known that the PKK works arm in arm with Syria’s intelligence organization Al Mukhabarat. Assad is inclined to view Turkey’s foe, the PKK, as a friend,” AK Party Deputy Chairman Huseyin Celik told the Hurriyet newspaper.
In an interview with a Turkish newspaper at the start of July, Assad denied that Syria had allowed the PKK to operate on Syrian territory close to the Turkish frontier.
But Turkey suspects a major Syrian Kurdish movement, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), of having links with the PKK. Turkish analysts believe Assad let the PYD seize control of security in some towns in northern Syria to prevent locals from joining the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay told a news conference that the target of Monday’s attack had been the police station and that the car carrying the bomb had been left in place by a tow truck shortly before the explosion.
He declined to comment when asked about possible Syrian involvement, saying the investigations was ongoing.
The attack came two days after Turkey began handing out food and other humanitarian aid to Syrians fleeing the uprising against Assad. Gaziantep is home to a centre that receives international aid as Turkey struggles to cope with an influx of almost 70,000 Syrian refugees.
Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Andrew Osborn