BEIRUT/REYHANLI, TURKEY – Turkey was reeling Sunday from twin car bomb attacks that left at least 46 people dead in a town near the Syrian border, with Ankara blaming pro-Damascus groups and vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Rescuers were searching for possible survivors buried underneath the rubble of buildings destroyed by the blasts on Saturday in Reyhanli, one of the main Turkish hubs for Syrian refugees and rebels.
Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay confirmed that the twin blasts had killed at least 46 people and wounded 100, many of whom were in critical condition.
“The people and the organization who carried out this attack have been identified,” Interior Minister Muammer Guler told national TRT television. “We have established that they are linked to groups supporting the Syrian regime and its intelligence services.”
Turkey, a member of NATO, distanced itself from its erstwhile ally soon after Syrian President Bashar Assad started cracking down on protests for democracy in 2011. Ankara has since become a rear base for the Syrian rebellion, and Damascus has already been blamed for a string of attacks on Turkish soil.
Atalay said the perpetrators of Saturday’s attacks did not appear to have crossed into Turkey from Syria but were already in the country.
Guler said the regional governor had been sent to Reyhanli “to put the necessary security measures in place.”
The attack sowed panic in Reyhanli, a town of about 60,000 people, leading to tensions between youths and Syrian refugees and forcing police to fire into the air to disperse the crowd.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was “not a coincidence” that the bombings occurred as international diplomatic efforts to solve the Syrian crisis were intensifying.
“It is not a coincidence that this should happen in a period where there is an acceleration of efforts on Syria in the whole world,” he said. “Nothing will go unanswered,” added Davutoglu, vowing the culprits will be brought to justice.
The West swiftly denounced the attacks. French President Francois Hollande condemned them “in the strongest possible terms,” and U.N. chief Ban Ki Moon said the perpetrators must be “brought to justice.”
The Syrian opposition National Coalition said the attacks were designed to drive a wedge between Turks and Syrians.
“The coalition sees these heinous terrorist acts as an attempt to take revenge on the Turkish people and punish them for their honorable support of the Syrian people,” it said in a statement. The bombings were “a desperate and failed attempt to sow discord.”
In northern Syria, rebels took over two army posts on a desert road that serves as an alternate route into the city of Aleppo after days of fighting, said Rami Abdul Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The regime built the desert road to bypass contested areas after rebels captured the town of Maaret al-Numan in October, cutting the main highway between Aleppo and Damascus.
Meanwhile, state TV said government troops were able to secure the highway linking Damascus with the southern city of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad’s regime began more than two years ago.