Conflict & Justice

Turkey-Syria border crossing hit with explosion


A Syrian refugee child helps a man to collect wood at a refugee camp in Bab al-Salam on the Syria-Turkey border, on January 9, 2013.


AFP/Getty Images

ANTAKYA, Turkey — A car bomb detonated at the Bab al Hawa border crossing between Turkey and Syria has killed at least 11 people, according to hospital staff in Antakya, a Turkish city close to the border crossing.

A car laden with explosives was driven from the Syrian side to the border in the Reyhanli district of Hatay province, and is at this stage believed to have been detonated by remote control. At least 30 were injured.

NPR correspondent Deborah Amos reported that she was at the scene, calling it a "huge explosion."

"People panicked," Amos said. "You can see from where I am ... billowing clouds of smoke over the Turkish border point. It was inside Turkey."

Mamoud, a Syrian smuggler, works at the border post every day.

“I was crossing back over to the Turkish side when I heard the explosion behind me,” said Mamoud who asked to be identified by his first name only. “I went back to check what had happened. There were many injured people. Most were truck drivers.”

Mamoud said eight or nine of the injured were Syrian. Three were Turkish. Moments later ambulances arrived rushing the injured to hospitals in nearby Reyhanli and Antakya.

The busy border post is always a hub of trade between the two countries with lines of trucks shipping goods back and forth. Much of the trade is illegal.

Hundreds cross through this border each day including opposition fighters, refugees, journalists and aid workers. The majority cross illegally with the aid of smugglers like Mamoud.

The cause of the explosion is not yet clear. Commanders from the opposition Free Syrian Army have accused Syrian government forces of perpetrating the blast. Rumors of Al Qaeda involvement are also rife.

There were conflicting reports from Turkish foreign ministry officials, with one suggesting a suicide bomber may have been involved, Agence France Presse reported.

The motives for such an attack from an opposition group are unclear, while such an attack by government forces so deep into rebel territory seems unlikely.

"We don't know whether this was a suicide bomb or whether a car that was smuggling petrol across the border blew up," one Turkish official told Reuters.

“This is a disaster,” said Mohammed Haj who manages donations for the refugee border camps in nearby Atmeh.

“Bab al Hawa will be closed for three days. Getting supplies through to Syria will be difficult for all groups of [Free Syrian Army] and for the humanitarian services."

Brigade commander Abdul Rachman, from rebel group Suqur al-Sham, was attending a meeting with members of the Syrian National Council in Turkey at the time of the explosion and is now unable to cross back to Syria.

He said details were still sketchy but it seems the main target may have been council members who were scheduled to cross the border at that time.

President Bashar al-Assad vowed on Monday not to bow to mounting pressure and plots, according to AFP.

"Syria will remain the beating heart of the Arab world and will not give up its principles despite the intensifying pressure and diversifying plots not only targeting Syria, but all Arabs," Assad said, according to state news agency SANA.

Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said he had received "no clear response" from Assad after an offer for dialogue.

AFP also reported that rebels had seized control of Syria's largest dam, citing a monitoring group.

Tracey Shelton contributed to this report from Antakya, Turkey.