BEIRUT — Turkish officials accused Syria of carrying out a double car bombing on Saturday that killed at least 40 people in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli, just days before a visit to Washington by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that is expected to focus on the crisis in Syria.
Dozens more were wounded in the attack, which targeted a post office and the municipality headquarters, bringing scenes of carnage reminiscent of those that have become familiar in Syria to a sleepy corner of southern Turkey. Facades were ripped off buildings, cars were ignited and body parts were strewn across charred streets, according to witnesses and videos of the aftermath.
Reyhanli, located just across the border from the northern Syrian province of Idlib, has become a hub for the Syrian opposition during the past two years, a place where arms dealers converge, rebel fighters recoup, the wounded are taken for treatment and refugees crowd into any available space they can find.
Erdogan suggested Syria may have been responsible for the blasts, although he also raised the possibility that they were linked to the peace process underway between Turkey’s government and Kurdish militants. “We are going through sensitive times,” he said.
But the timing of the attacks, their proximity to the Syrian border and Reyhanli’s importance to the Syrian opposition suggested they were linked to the Syrian crisis, other government officials said. Four Syrians and a Turk have been charged with a February bombing in which 14 people died at the nearby border crossing of Bab al-Hawa that the Turkish government blames on regime loyalists.
“We know that the Syrian refugees have become a target of the Syrian regime,” said Bulent Arinc, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, in comments quoted by the Associated Press. “Reyhanli was not chosen by coincidence.”
“Our thoughts are that their mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence agency) and armed organizations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans,” he added.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed that those responsible “would get a response,” in a reminder of the potential for the Syrian war to spill beyond its borders and draw in regional players.
The bombing came a week after Israeli warplanes struck military installations in Damascus in what was widely reported to be an attempt to prevent sophisticated missiles from being delivered to the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.