Syrian refugees target of attacks in wake of Reyhanli bombings

Locals affiliated with ultranationalist political parties attacked Syrian refugees in Hatay's Reyhanlı district, according to a report drafted by a human rights group.

Syrian refugees target of attacks in wake of Reyhanli bombings

World Bulletin/News Desk                                        

Locals affiliated with ultranationalist political parties attacked Syrian refugees in Hatay's Reyhanlı district, which was rocked by twin car bombs that killed 51 people and wounded many more over the weekend, in the aftermath of the bombings and one refugee was beaten to death, according to a report drafted by a human rights group.

The Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed Peoples (MAZLUM-DER) shared its report with the media on Tuesday evening. The report was prepared by a delegation from the association who traveled to Reyhanlı shortly after the bombings on May 11.

One of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office in the town of Reyhanlı, a main hub for Syrian refugees and opposition activity in Turkey's Hatay province. Fifty-one people were killed and as many as 100 injured in the bombings. According to official records, 41 of the victims killed in the attack are Turkish and seven are Syrian. Efforts are ongoing to find out the identities of the remaining three victims. Seventeen of the injured are in a critical condition.

MAZLUM-DER said its delegation talked to Turkish and Arabic citizens and Syrian refugees living in Reyhanlı as well as officials at the Reyhanlı State Hospital.

According to the report, one Syrian refugee was lynched to death by Reyhanlı locals after the bombings, but the refugee was reported as having been killed in the bombings in the official records. In addition, a Turkish citizen, identified as Ayhan Altıntaş, was stabbed by locals as he attempted to save the Syrian refugee from harm.

Many Turkish government officials blamed the attack on a group linked to Syria and ruled out the hand of the Syrian opposition forces or refugees in the blasts.

However, some people claimed that the Reyhanlı attackers were assisted by refugees hosted in Reyhanlı. Reyhanlı has a Turkish population of some 60,000, but it is hosting up to 80,000 Syrian refugees, who fled the violence in their home country.

The MAZLUM-DER report also claimed that some Reyhanlı locals, incited by various ultranationalist figures, attacked Syrian refugees as well as their houses and vehicles after the bombings. “Locals entered houses belonging to refugees by force in large groups and beat the refugees. The assailants are said to be members of extreme nationalist or ultranationalist political parties. There are claims that the number of those assailants grows bigger every other day. They hold Syrian refugees responsible for the attack in the district, and they attempt to lynch any person in the area whom they suspect to be Syrian.”

The report, in addition, asserted that the police do not take required measures to protect the refugees.

“Around 50,000 Syrian refugees cannot leave their houses or tents out of fear they will get attacked outside. Those who are sick cannot go to hospitals to receive treatment,” the report stated, and went on to say that anti-Syrian fanatic groups pay frequent visits to the houses of victims in the bombings and provoke them against refugees. They pass on rumors that there are several other bomb-laden vehicles in the district, which will soon be exploded.

Journalist Hakan Albayrak, speaking during a televised program on Tuesday evening, claimed that some of the Syrian victims in Reyhanlı were killed by protestors but not by the bombings. “Syrian refugees were killed by protestors who crushed their heads with stones. And doctors were forced to hide this fact they discovered during autopsies from the media,” he claimed.

The journalist also said the violence against refugees was a source of shame for Turkey. “Syrian refugees now opt to die in their country rather than in Turkey. And there are people [in Turkey] who are delighted by the decision of refugees. I am ashamed of becoming a citizen of the same country as those people. Shame on them!” he added.

On Wednesday afternoon, the press office of the Syrian National Council (SNC) issued a statement in which it denied Albayrak's claims. In the statement, the council said it closely monitored incidents that broke out in the aftermath of the Reyhanlı bombings and that some individuals attacked Syrian refugees. However, according to the council, claims that some refugees were killed or stoned to death are groundless.

Another denial to the journalist's claim came from Reyhanlı Mayor Hüseyin Şanverdi. According to the mayor, some minor incidents of violence occurred in the district after the deadly attack but it is baseless that some Syrian refugees were killed by violent Turkish groups.

Suspects referred to court

Eight of the 13 suspects who were detained after the deadly bombings in Reyhanlı were referred to the Adana Courthouse on Wednesday to be interrogated by public prosecutors after their questioning by the police was complete.

The suspects were transferred to the court early in the morning under tight security measures. Details from their interrogation by prosecutors were not immediately available to the press.

In his testimony to the police, one of the 13 suspects said they initially planned to carry out bomb attacks in the Turkish capital but later gave up their plans due to tight security measures in the province.

According to the testimony of the suspect, identified as Ahmet M., he and two other attackers -- whom he identified as Nasır and Yusuf B. -- traveled by car to Konya first and then to Ankara, their “real target of attack.” “I do not remember exactly which itinerary we used [to travel to Ankara]. We asked some people to get to the Kocatepe Mosque. We left our car in a parking lot beneath the mosque and then visited the mosque. We took some photos and then headed to a shopping center beneath the mosque. I think we spent a few hours there,” the suspect told the police.

Shortly after the bombings, police sources claimed that attackers planned to strike in Ankara, with the Kocatepe Mosque and a much-frequented shopping center being the planned target. Footage retrieved from Mobile Electronic Systems Integration (MOBESE) cameras in Ankara verified the claims. Footage showed a vehicle, driven by some suspects in the Reyhanlı attack, patrolling areas close to the mosque and the shopping center in Ankara.

Ahmet M. also told the police that he and his friends, who were unfamiliar with Ankara, traveled once again to the Kocatepe Mosque to check if they would manage that without asking anyone about the itinerary. “We made a few tours around the mosque and then left for Hatay,” he added.

The police found that a team of 17 people masterminded and carried out the bloody attack. Efforts are ongoing to capture the remaining four suspects. Three of them are reportedly Syrian. One ton of TNT and C3 explosives were used in the bombings. The explosives were brought into Turkey from Latakia by sea.

The explosives initially arrived in Hatay's Samandağ district and were later transported to Reyhanlı. The captured attackers said they monitored and checked the attack sites several times before, and in return they received 5 million Syrian lira. The explosives were blown up using remote controls by three Syrian attackers, who are suspected to have fled back to their country after the attack.

In addition, footage from MOBESE cameras in Hatay showed that Yusuf B., one of the suspects in the deadly bombings, had lunch with his friends shortly after the attack. He reportedly told his friends that he would flee abroad soon.

Justice minister escaped attack

A Turkish daily claimed on Wednesday that Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin was scheduled to attend a meeting in Reyhanlı on the day of the bombings in the district.

According to the Bugün daily, the AK Party's Hatay branch was planning to hold its monthly meeting on May 11 with the participation of the minister. The minister, however, told the party's Hatay branch that he would not be able to attend the meeting due to health problems. Instead, the branch decided to hold the meeting earlier, on May 10, without the participation of Ergin.

In the meantime on Wednesday, the President's Office announced that President Abdullah Gül is due to travel to Reyhanlı today. The president will carry out a series of inspections at the sites of the bombings and hold contacts with local authorities there. He is also expected to give significant messages about Syria during his Reyhanlı visit.

Last Mod: 16 Mayıs 2013, 09:56
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