41 arrested for involvement in anti-Syrian unrest across Turkey: minister

Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya has announced that 41 people have been arrested in connection to anti-Syrian protests that erupted in the central province of Kayseri last Sunday and spread to other cities later in the week, Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Mobs attacked Syrian-owned businesses, homes and vehicles in Kayseri last Sunday after claims emerged that a Syrian man had sexually abused an underage relative. The man was arrested.

The unrest quickly spread to other cities, evolving into a xenophobic outburst across the country with groups chanting nationalist slogans while vandalizing Syrian-owned vehicles and businesses. In the southern province of Antalya, a 17-year-old Syrian, Ahmet Handan El Naif, was killed by a mob on Tuesday amid racist attacks on Syrians in the country.

Yerlikaya said at a news conference in Kayseri on Friday that among a total of 855 people who were detained in Kayseri for their involvement in the attacks against Syrians and their properties, 145 have been released under judicial supervision, while 13 were arrested by a court.

He said 468 of the detainees had criminal records that included people smuggling, fraud, theft and sexual abuse.

With regard to the detentions and arrests in other cities, Yerlikaya said among 1,065 people who were taken into custody, 28 in various provinces have been arrested, while 187 were released under judicial supervision.

The minister also said the cybercrime unit of the Security Directorate General found 189 social media accounts, six of which were operated from abroad, that have posted provocative messages and disinformation about the incidents in Kayseri. He said 108 of these social media users were detained, of whom 12 were arrested and 32 released under judicial supervision.

Turkey hosts approximately 3.2 million Syrian refugees, and xenophobic violence, often fueled by social media rumors, has erupted multiple times in recent years. The fate of these refugees remains a contentious political issue, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s opponents in the last election promising to repatriate them. This time, however, a possible rift between Erdoğan and his far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has led to rumors that the recent outbreak of violence may have been provoked by MHP members.

As tensions continue to rise, the Turkish government faces pressure to manage the violence and address the underlying issues driving these xenophobic sentiments. Erdoğan hinted at potential talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which might influence the future of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

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