REYHANLI, Turkey – In one of the deadliest attacks in Turkey in recent years, two car bombs exploded near the border with Syria on Saturday, killing 43 and wounding 140 others. Turkish officials blamed the attack on a group linked to Syria, and a deputy prime minister called the neighboring country’s intelligence service and military “the usual suspects.”
The blasts, which were 15 minutes apart and hit the town of Reyhanli’s busiest street, raised fears that Turkey could increasingly be drawn into Syria’s brutal civil war.
Turkey already hosts Syria’s political opposition and rebel commanders, has given shelter to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and in the past retaliated against Syrian shells that landed in Turkey.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said the assailants were from Turkey, but were linked to Syria’s intelligence service.
“We have to a great extent completed our work toward identifying the assailants,” he told reporters. “We have established that the organization and assailants have links to the pro-regime mukhabarat (intelligence) organization.”
He did not name the group, but said the aim of the attack was to pit Turks against Syrian refugees in Reyhanli.
Earlier, another deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc said: “Our thoughts are that their mukhabarat and armed organizations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans,” he said.
One of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office. Reyhanli, a main hub for Syrian refugees and rebels in Turkey’s Hatay province, is just across the border from Syria’s Idlib province. Private NTV television, citing unnamed security sources, said the explosions were remote-controlled and that plastic explosives were used.
The explosions came days before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to travel to the U.S. for talks, which are expected to be dominated by the situation in Syria.