Two Turkish F-16 fighter-bombers fired at a group of Turkish civilians, who were mistaken for Kurdish rebels, crossing the Iraqi border.
Turkey’s president and prime minister expressed their regret and condolences Friday over the airstrike that killed 35 Turkish civilians, who were mistaken for Kurdish rebels.
But the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) announced it was not responsible for the intelligence that prompted the airstrike. The MIT is independent of the Turkish Armed Forces and reports to the prime minister.
“Our grief is great,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. President Abdullah Gul said the strike was “an unintended, unfortunate and saddening incident.”
Two Turkish F-16 fighter-bombers fired at a group of about 40 people crossing the Iraqi-Turkish border late Wednesday, acting on information that they were guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
But they were in fact smugglers of cigarettes and diesel who were returning to their village in the south-eastern province of Sirnak.
The leaders’ statements came hours after the head of the opposition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, attacked the cabinet for its silence over what a ruling party official had already termed “an unfortunate operational accident.”
“The government should immediately apologize. Where did they get this intelligence?” Kilicdaroglu told reporters earlier Friday.
Erdogan said the state was used to small groups of smugglers crossing the border in that area, but the large group on Wednesday night had strengthened the military’s suspicion that they were “terrorists.”
Meanwhile, the funerals of the 35 victims took place Friday afternoon, with villagers lining the road and raising their hands to wave farewell as the convoy of ambulances and hearses passed. Earlier in the day autopsies were performed at a state hospital.
Hundreds of friends and relatives stood around the graves that were dug into a hillside near the village of Uludere, according to images broadcast on NTV.
“May God’s mercy be upon those who lost their lives,” Gul told reporters after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul. “I would like to convey my condolences to their families.”
The general staff issued a statement on its website, saying: “We wish God’s mercy on our citizens who lost their lives in the incident that took place on the night of Dec 28, 2011, and we also convey our condolences to their families.”
It was the second statement in 24 hours that the Turkish Armed Forces had issued about the airstrike.
In Thursday’s statement, the military said the strike was ordered after it received intelligence from “various sources” that PKK members were preparing to cross into Sirnak and a group of people was seen advancing towards the border.
Leaders of the Kurdish nationalist party (BDP) have called the airstrike a “massacre” and a “crime against humanity.” Kurds in Istanbul and Diyarbakir on Thursday held protests over the attack.