ANKARA, Turkey – An explosion and blaze triggered by an accidentally dropped hand grenade killed 25 soldiers during a stock check at a Turkish ammunition depot, the government said Thursday.
Four other soldiers were injured in the blast, which lit up the night sky late Wednesday with flames, and shattered windows in homes in the nearby town of Afyonkarahisar in western Turkey, terrifying residents.
Forestry and Water Minister Veysel Eroglu ruled out terrorism and sabotage, saying the blast occurred in a section where hand grenades were kept. The soldiers' remains were discovered early Thursday after a subsequent blaze was extinguished.
"One hand grenade was dropped during stock-taking and sorting, causing a large explosion," Eroglu said. "There was no external intervention. There certainly was no sabotage or anything like that."
Eroglu said hand grenades were found strewn across the area and authorities were detonating them with controlled explosions. Turkey's NTV television showed security officers walking along a road and in fields, looking for unexploded ammunition.
President Abdullah Gul urged a full investigation, though some opposition lawmakers questioned whether any high-ranking military officials would be called to account.
Cihan News Agency quoted Yakup Evirgen, a retired military major who handled logistics, as saying a variety of factors can be involved in an accident involving munitions, including their production date, where they had been previously stored and whether they had degraded over time, making them unstable.
Another retired military officer, Haldun Solmazturk, said that, based on his experience as a brigadier general, the stock check should not have been conducted at night and that the number of soldiers involved in the procedure at Afyonkarahisar seemed to be too high. His comments were reported by Ilhas News Agency.
Families of conscripts serving at the facility rushed to the area after hearing news of the explosions. Many broke into tears after the deaths were reported, NTV said. Some remains were sent to the capital, Ankara, for DNA tests so they could be identified.
Some civilians were evacuated from the nearby town overnight. Authorities warned people to stay away from the area.
In 1997, an explosion at Turkey's largest weapons factory in Kirikkale in central Turkey killed two people and sparked a fire that raged for days.