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.
Arinc said the attacks were still being investigated, but that if it's proven that Syrian was behind the attack, Turkey would "do whatever is necessary," without specifying if that included military action.
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. The car bombings also follow allegations by Erdogan that the Syrian regime has fired about 200 missiles tipped with chemical weapons.
Syrian mortar rounds have fallen over the border before, but if the blasts turn out to be linked to Syria it would be by far the biggest death toll in Turkey related to its neighbor's civil war.
Syria shares a more than 500-mile 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 center for Syrian insurgents.
Atalay said 43 people were killed and 140 others were wounded in the blasts.
The bombings" will increase the pressure on the U.S. president this 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 pro-active position on Syria, at least in rhetoric, whether or not there is appetite for such a position here."