Turkey has said it is investigating whether another country, possibly Iran, was involved in an explosion that killed nine people near Syria earlier this week. The announcement reflects concern about spillover from the war in Syria as well as increasing tension with Iran, a regional power that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Turkey blamed a Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, for the attack in the southern city of Gaziantep. In a separate incident near the Iraqi border, Turkish media reported Thursday that five soldiers and 16 Kurdish militants died in a nighttime ambush of a military convoy and an ensuing operation by security forces.
Some Turkish officials allege there are links between the PKK, which denied it carried out the bombing, and Syrian intelligence. Turkey backs the Syrian opposition in its war with forces loyal to Assad, and relations between Ankara and Damascus have sharply deteriorated since the conflict began in March 2011.
In an interview Wednesday night with CNN-Turk television, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc left open the possibility that Iran might be a culprit in Monday's bombing near a police station in Gaziantep.
"It's not just about Syria, connected to it or limited to it," Arinc said. "All foreign elements who may be involved in our geography."
Asked if that included Iran, he said: "It could be Iran, it could be here or it could be there."
Anti-Assad protest in Istanbul (Photo: Reuters)
Turkey and Iran have expanded trade in past years and tamped down their traditional rivalry, but sharp differences over the Syrian conflict as well as Turkey's decision to host a NATO radar that would send a warning if Iran fires missiles have led to increasingly tense rhetoric on both sides.
Hossein Naghavi, spokesman for Iran's parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, suggested that Turkey was jeopardizing its own security with its Syria policy and that the bombing in Gaziantep was the result of "terrorist groups" that were reacting to its position.
"Turkey is now facing an internal crisis and it would be better for it to solve its own domestic problems rather than intervening and expressing hostile remarks" against Syria, Naghavi said Tuesday in remarks carried by ICANA, the news website of the Iranian parliament.
In July, Turkish media reported that a dozen people suspected of links to the al-Qaeda network were detained in southern cities, including Gaziantep. US officials and others worry that Syria could become a new foothold for insurgents inspired by al-Qaida who are currently fighting on the opposition's side.
In an analysis published just before the Gaziantep bombing, Stratfor, a US research center, said Turkey faced the possibility of a backlash.
"If Ankara is expanding its involvement in Syria, it will do so in a measured fashion because it will be fearful of pushback from the Syrian regime and Iran via the Kurds," the report said.