The death toll from suspected twin car bombs that hit the southern province of Hatay’s Reyhanlı district on the Turkish-Syrian border has risen to 43, Turkish Deputy Prime Ministrer Beşir Atalay said today. More than 100 were injured, 56 of whom are still being treated, he added.
The town center of Reyhanlı, which is hosting many Syrians fleeing the conflict in the Arab republic, was the target of deadly explosions at around 1:45 p.m. local time. Bombs were set off near the municipality, causing major damage to buildings in the town center. A wooden building close to the municipality collapsed following the explosions, while power has reportedly been cut in the town. Police took heavy security measures after the explosions.
The explosions were likely caused by two cars filled with explosives, Interior Minister Muammer Güler told reporters after the attacks, but other reports indicated that there were three or more explosions.
However, Güler said that the third explosion was unrelated to the twin blasts. ”The third explosion was a car’s fuel tank. It had nothing to do with the events,” he said.
The explosions caused massive panic in Reyhanlı, leading many locals to try and leave town, according to reports. Scuffles were also reported between locals and Syrians, as tensions had been mounting ahead of the attacks.
Officials confirm link with Syrian intelligence
It was confirmed that the perpetrators were linked to the Syrian regime and intelligence agency, Güler was also quoted as saying by the public broadcaster TRT.
Atalay also confirmed that the attackers were linked to the Syrian intelligence organization, known as the Mukhabarat. He added that they were from inside Turkey. “The organization is known, who they are is also known to a great extent. It is abolutely certain that [the attack] has nothing to do with Syrian refugees,” Atalay said
Assad regime ‘Usual suspect’: Deputy PM
Meanwhile, Turkish politicians warned against provocations and suggested that the attack might have been aimed at Turkey’s ongoing peace process.
“We have started a resolution process in our country, and there are those who don’t accept this new era,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in his first remarks following the explosions.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said Syria could be behind the attacks. “Bashar al-Assad with his Mukhabarat is the usual suspect in planning and carrying out such an attack,” Arınç said.
“If it is proven that al-Assad is responsible [for the attack], we will do what is necessary,” he said.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül also called for people to “be vigilant to provocations,” while Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin, a Hatay deputy, said the attacks “were intentional.”
Speaking during a visit to Germany, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the timing of the attack was not a coincidence. “The diplomatic traffic [on Syria] is intensifying,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Turkish opposition called on the government to review its Syria policy while condemning the attacks. “The government should review its internal and foreign policy,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a statement.
For his part, Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli said Turkey’s border security was under threat, while blaming the peace process and the government’s position regarding Syria.
Reyhanlı was hit by another deadly attack in February at the Cilvegözü border gate that killed 14. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but a Syrian opposition faction accused the Syrian government of the bombing, saying it narrowly missed leaders of the group. Turkish authorities that led the investigation into the bombing had said the Syrian suspects taken into custody worked with Syria’s intelligence service.