Skip to main content

Syrian opposition: Turkish border blast was an assassination attempt

By Ivan Watson and Gul Tuysuz, CNN
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed February 13, 2013
  • An explosion at a Turkish border gate kills at least 14 people
  • A Syrian National Council delegation was supposed to be at the gate, a member says
  • The group was en route to meet with rebel Free Syrian Army commanders
  • It's not clear who committed the attack, the deadliest in Turkey since the Syrian civil war started

Cilvegozu, Turkey (CNN) -- A Syrian opposition group says it was the target of a deadly blast at a Turkish border gate near Syria on Monday that left at least 14 people dead and 28 wounded.

"When the explosion happened, we were supposed to be there. But we were delayed for maybe half an hour," said George Sabra, a leader of the opposition Syrian National Council.

Sabra said he was part of a 13-member group from the council's executive bureau that was traveling from Turkey to Syria on Monday to meet with commanders of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

Security Council condemns Syria's attack on Turkey

Minivan explodes at Turkey-Syria border
Bomber strikes U.S. embassy in Turkey
Can Syrian town's truce hold?

Their journey through the Turkish border gate at Cilvegozu was delayed by a prayer.

"We stopped at a gas station, and some of our group went to a small mosque to pray there for half an hour," Sabra said. "My mother always said to me, 'God bless you.' Maybe this time He responded to her."

Dozens of other Syrians and Turks at the border crossing were not so fortunate.

Turkey and Syria: Why neither side wants war

On Monday afternoon, Turkish officials said, a minivan drove from the Syrian rebel-controlled side of the border compound and parked next to the first Turkish checkpoint.

Later, that vehicle blew up.

"A minute after the initial explosion, another explosion occurred. This may have been the gas tank of a nearby car," Turkish Interior Minister Muammer Guler told reporters Monday night.

"It was a strong explosion. Our colleagues are working on identifying the explosive," he added.

The death toll was initially placed at 13. Later, Turkish officials and the opposition group said it had risen to 14.

This was not the first time the violence in Syria has spilled across the border to claim Turkish lives. But the border blast was clearly the deadliest incident in Turkey since the Syrian uprising began 23 months ago.

Turkish president: ''Worst-case scenario' in Syria becoming reality

In October, five Turkish civilians were killed when Syrian troops shelled the Turkish border town of Akcakale. And in June, Syrian anti-aircraft fire brought down a Turkish military reconnaissance jet over the Mediterranean Sea.

When fighting erupts across the border, Turkish authorities periodically close schools that are close to Turkish territory.

The Turkish government has been reluctant to call Monday's explosion an act of terrorism.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's often fiery prime minister, made a restrained, somewhat ambiguous statement to the Turkish media Monday.

Turkish president: ''Worst-case scenario' in Syria becoming reality

"This event illustrates how on target we have been in terms of our sensitivity to both terrorism and to the events in Syria. We will not make concessions on either front," Erdogan said.

Turkey has hosted more than 170,000 Syrian refugees since Syria's uprising and subsequent government crackdown began in March 2011.

As violence intensified inside Syria, the Turkish government turned its back on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and threw its support behind the Syrian opposition.

Turkey has provided medical care and financial and logistical support to Syrian rebels. The Turks have also permitted shipments of weapons and ammunition to cross the border to rebels inside Syria.

If, as the evidence suggests, Monday's attack was a car bomb, the list of potential suspects is quite long.

Earlier this month, a violent Turkish leftist group claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing a Turkish guard and seriously wounding a Turkish journalist.

Turkey to Syria: Don't send arms through our airspace

For nearly three decades, Kurdish separatists have fought a guerrilla war against the Turkish state.

And al Qaeda and other radical Islamic groups have carried out deadly attacks in Turkey.

The opposition Syrian National Council has accused the Syrian government of planning Monday's explosion, but has not offered any evidence to back up that claim.

On Tuesday, Turkish gendarme units established a checkpoint blocking civilian access to the Cilvegozu border terminal.

And in the nearby town of Reyhanli, families were burying victims of the mysterious blast.

Hundreds of mourners watched as the wife and young son of 34-year-old Ahmet Tas, a Turkish citizen killed in the attack, screamed in despair.

His coffin was buried in a cemetery not far from the Syrian border.

Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 5:19 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What caught our experts' ears was as much about what he didn't address as much as what he did.
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
The three-year war in Syria has claimed 162,402 lives, an opposition group said Monday, as the raging conflict shows no signs of abating.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
Official: The U.S. believes a jihadi featured in a suicide bombing video in Syria is Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha who grew up in Florida.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
For the first time, Britain has convicted someone of a terrorism offense related to the Syrian civil war.