Bombs kill at least 40 in Turkish town near border with Syria

The blasts, which were 15 minutes apart, raise fears that Syria's civil war was crossing into its neighbour.

A woman is evacuated from the site where car bombs exploded on Saturday near the town hall in Reyhanli, just a few kilometres from the main border crossing into Syria. AFP
Powered by automated translation

ANKARA // Two car bombs exploded in a Turkish town near the border with Syria yesterday, killing about 40 people and wounding 100 others.

Turkey's deputy prime minister said Syria's intelligence and military were "the usual suspects" behind the bombings, but said authorities were still investigating the attacks.

The blasts, which were 15 minutes apart, raised fears that Syria's brutal civil war was crossing into its neighbour.

One of the car bombs exploded outside the city hall while the other went off outside the post office in the town of Reyhanli, a main hub for Syrian refugees and rebel activity in Turkey's Hatay province. Images showed people frantically carrying victims through the rubble-strewn streets to safety.

There was no immediate information on the identities or nationalities of the victims.

Deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc linked the blasts to Syria.

"We know that the Syrian refugees have become a target of the Syrian regime," he said. "Reyhanli was not chosen by coincidence."

"Our thoughts are that their mukhabarat [intelligence agency] and armed organisations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans," he said.

Mr Arinc said Turkey would "do whatever is necessary" if it were proven that Syria was behind the attack.

The Turkih prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, earlier also raised the possibility that the bombings might be related to Turkey's peace talks with Kurdish rebels meant to end a nearly 30-year-old conflict.

"We are going through sensitive times, we started a new era, the Kurdish issue solution process. Those who cannot digest this new era ... could take such actions," Mr Erdogan said in comments broadcast on Turkish television.

Syrian mortar rounds have fallen over the border before, but if the explosion turns out to be linked to Syria it would be by far the biggest death toll in Turkey related to its neighbour's civil war.

Syria shares a more than 800-kilometre border with Turkey, which has been a crucial supporter of the Syrian rebel cause. Ankara has allowed its territory to be used as a logistics base and staging centre for Syrian insurgents.

The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, vowed from Berlin that Turkey would act.

"Those who for whatever reason attempt to bring the external chaos into our country will get a response," he said.

The main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, condemned the "terrorist attacks" in Reyhanli, saying it stood together with the "Turkish government and the friendly Turkish people".

The coalition sees "these heinous terrorist acts as an attempt to take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honorable support for the Syrian people", it said.

Reyhanli is a center for aid and alleged weapon trafficking between Turkey and Syria, as well as for Syrian rebel activity. Apart from refugees living in camps, many Syrians escaping the civil war have also rented houses in the town.

The explosions came days before Mr Erdogan is scheduled to travel to the United States for talks, which are expected to be dominated by the situation in Syria.

"This ... will increase the pressure on the US president next week to do something to show support to Turkey when Erdogan visits him in Washington," said Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute. "Washington will be forced to take a more proactive position on Syria, at least in rhetoric, whether or not there is appetite for such a position here."

The frontier area has seen heavy fighting between rebels and the Syrian regime. In February, a car bomb exploded at a border crossing with Turkey in Syria's Idlib province, killing 14. Turkey's interior minister has accused Syria's intelligence agencies and its army of involvement.

Tensions flared between the Syrian regime and Turkey after shells fired from Syria landed on the Turkish side, prompting Germany, the Netherlands and the US to send two batteries of Patriot air defense missiles each to protect their Nato ally.

Five civilians were killed when shells hit the Turkish border town of Akacakale last October, and several shells struck near Reyhanli in December but without causing casualties.