Car bomb in Colombian capital leaves at least 9 dead; suspect identified

Twenty one dead after a car bomb in Colombia’s capital

A car bomb in Bogotá, Colombia, left 21 dead on Jan. 17, 2019.
Up Next
A car bomb in Bogotá, Colombia, left 21 dead on Jan. 17, 2019.

An SUV carrying more than 150 pounds of explosives detonated at a police academy in Colombia’s capital on Thursday, killing at least nine and leaving 57 people injured, according to the Ministry of Defense.

The explosion took place around 9:30 a.m. at the General Santander police academy in southern Bogotá.

“This was an attack on an academic institution where there were unarmed youth,” President Iván Duque said after touring the site. “This demented act of terrorism will not go unpunished.”

Attorney General Néstor Martinez identified the driver of the vehicle — who is thought to have died in the blast — as José Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez.

Martinez stopped short of saying what group or groups might have been behind the attack, as the investigation is ongoing. And no one immediately took responsibility for the bombing, which is shaping up to be one of the deadliest in the city in more than a decade.

The FARC political party — formed in the wake of the 2016 peace accord with what was Colombia’s largest guerrilla group — condemned the attack.

Social media sites runs by the National Liberation Army (ELN), which has been stepping up attacks and criminal activities in recent months, did not immediately address the car bombing.

But the group is known to be active in Arauca, the southern border state where authorities said the alleged driver had previously registered a vehicle.

An eyewitness told Caracol Radio that a truck had pulled up to the police checkpoint at the academy, and that when a bomb-sniffing dog began barking, the driver sped into the compound, running over guards. Video on social media sites showed a twisted, smoldering hulk of a vehicle, body parts and the blast-pitted walls of buildings on the campus. Martinez identified the vehicle as a 1993 Nissan Patrol.

Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno confirmed that one of the dead was an Ecuadorean cadet studying at the academy. The U.S. Embassy in Colombia offered its condolences and said the U.S. government was prepared to help in the investigation.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Colombia saw a series of deadly bombings carried out by the FARC and Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel. In 2003, the bombing of El Nogal country club attributed to Escobar’s men killed at least three dozen people.

The last major bombings in the capital took place in 2017. In February, an explosive device near the city’s bull ring killed two people, and in June a blast at the upscale Andino shopping center killed three. That attack was attributed to the People’s Revolutionary Movement (MRP), which is thought to have ties to the ELN.

A dislodged traffic light box lies in the street of La Macarena barrio after a homemade bomb exploded near the Santamaria bull ring in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. The artefact was detonated just a few hours before a scheduled bullfigh

The attack comes as the government is mulling whether to continue peace talks with the ELN. While the peace deal with the FARC won then-President Juan Manuel Santos a Nobel Prize and is credited with helping bring down the country’s homicide rate, some have questioned the wisdom of negotiating with terrorist organizations.

Former President Alvaro Uribe, one of the harshest critics of the FARC deal, used Thursday’s bombing to underscore his point on Twitter. “How serious,” he wrote, “that the Peace process was the submission of the state to terrorism!”