ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

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A man takes part in a candlelight vigil to honor victims, close to the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia on January 17. (Reuters)
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A police officer holds a flower while standing guard at a candlelight vigil to honor victims, close to the scene of a car bomb explosion, in Bogota, Colombia on January 17. (Reuters)
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Members of the security forces and rescue personnel work at the site of an explosion on a police cadet training school in Bogota on January 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019

ELN rebels behind Bogota car bomb attack that killed 21: Colombian government

  • The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the explosion

BOGOTA: Colombia’s ELN rebel group was responsible for the car bomb attack against a police academy that killed at least 21 and injured dozens, Defense Minister Guillermo Botero said on Friday.

In Thursday’s attack, which the government described as an act of terrorism, the car broke through checkpoints into the grounds of the General Santander School before it detonated, shattering windows of apartments nearby.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, began peace talks with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos February 2017 but they have been put on hold by President Ivan Duque.

The country’s defense ministry had previously reported 11 dead and 65 injured. Colombia’s government declared three days of mourning Thursday after the attack.

The defense ministry said the “terrorist act” was carried out using a vehicle packed with 80 kilograms (around 175 pounds) of explosives.

“All Colombians reject terrorism and we’re united in fighting it,” President Ivan Duque tweeted in the aftermath.

Later in a statement to the nation, he said he had ordered reinforcements to Colombia’s borders and routes in and out of cities.

“I have also requested that priority be given to all the investigations ... to identify the masterminds of this terrorist attack and their accomplices,” he said.

The bomber — who authorities confirmed was killed in the attack — struck at the General Francisco de Paula Santander Officer’s School in the south of Bogota during a promotion ceremony for cadets.

No group has claimed responsibility, but public prosecutor Nestor Humberto Martinez named suspect Jose Aldemar Rojas Rodriguez as the “material author of this abominable crime.”

Martinez said Rojas Rodriguez entered the school compound at 9:30 a.m. driving a grey 1993 Nissan Patrol truck, but gave no details about the explosion.

He said the truck underwent an inspection in July in the Arauco department on the border with Venezuela — a traditional stronghold of ELN Marxist guerrillas.

Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno said one of the dead was an Ecuadoran cadet, while a second suffered light injuries.

“The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot,” Moreno said on Twitter.

“My sincerest thoughts go to the family, friends and companions of Erika Chico.”

Meanwhile, Panama’s President Juan Carlos Varela said that 45 Panamanian cadets were present during the attack, with two injured.

Fanny Contreras, the Colombian armed forces’ health inspector, told local radio that the truck “entered (the school compound) suddenly, almost hitting the police, and then there was the explosion.”

Carol Oviedo said her brother Jonathan, a cadet, told her on the phone he had been injured, before the connection was cut.

“In two years since he joined the police, he’s never had to face a situation like this,” she said.

Like other families, she was lingering in the vicinity of the academy hoping to hear some news.

United States assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America, Kimberly Breier condemned the attack and said: “Our condolences and sympathies go to the victims and family members of those killed.”

The US embassy in Bogota offered its “help in investigating this reprehensible attack.”

Rosalba Jimenez, 62, was opening her confectionary store near the school when the bomb went off.

“When we turned to look at the school the sky was grey with smoke. People were running, sirens... horrible, horrible, it seemed like the end of the world,” Jimenez said.

Authorities sealed off the area to the press and increased security service patrols in the south of the city, AFP reporters said.

Right-wing Duque, who assumed power in August, has peddled a tough line against Marxist rebels and drug traffickers in the largest cocaine producer in the world.

Peace talks with ELN guerrillas — who in the past have claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police — stalled before Duque replaced Juan Manuel Santos as president, and have not been restarted.

Duque has made several demands, including the release of all hostages, as prerequisites to kick-starting the peace process, but the ELN has dismissed those as unacceptable.

After the 2016 peace accord signed by Santos and FARC guerrillas, turning the former rebels into a political party, the ELN is considered the last active rebel group in a country that has suffered more than half a century of conflict.

That cycle of violence has also involved paramilitaries, drug traffickers and other Marxist rebels, including FARC dissidents.

A year ago, six police died and 40 were injured in an attack on a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla that was claimed by the ELN.

In February 2017, the ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol in the Macarena neighborhood of Bogota that left one officer dead and several seriously wounded.

In June, three people — including a Frenchwoman — were killed and nine others wounded in an attack on a Bogota shopping mall that authorities blamed on a fringe left-wing group called the Revolutionary People’s Movement.


India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

Updated 57 min 53 sec ago

India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

  • Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate
  • Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones

SRINAGAR: Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday.
Separately Indian officials said that a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region.
Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate.
Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day blackout in the restive northern territory imposed after New Delhi scrapped the region's semi-autonomous status.
The seven million-plus people of the Kashmir Valley — the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule — are still cut off from the Internet, however.
Authorities said SMS services were cut again on Monday night following the attack on the driver of a truck carrying apples in Shopian.
Residents said two masked gunmen told the driver to use his truck to block the road, but it skidded and got stuck.
“The gunmen then fired at the truck and set it on fire,” a witness told AFP.
Apples are a sensitive issue in Kashmir, which exports vast quantities of the fruit to markets across India.
Many orchard owners say they are refusing to harvest this year to protest against the government’s move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.
Indian authorities say that militants — backed by arch-rival Pakistan — have been intimidating farmers and businessmen.
The latest death from Pakistani artillery fire over the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir brings the number of fatalities on the Indian side to three in the past four days, the Press Trust of India reported.
Two Indian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Sunday, PTI said. It was unclear if there were any fatalities from Indian fire on the Pakistani side.
Also on Tuesday, police arrested 13 women activists in Srinagar after they staged a protest calling for civil liberties and the release of detainees.
The women, wearing black armbands, were arrested for “breaching the peace” and for a contravening a ban in place since early August on public gatherings of more than four people, police said.
They included the sister and daughter of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, one of several hundred local politicians, lawyers and others in custody since early August, mostly without charge.
Abdullah, 81, was formally arrested in mid-September under the highly contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows someone to be held for up to two years without charge, and which has been used widely in Kashmir in recent years.
Rebels have been fighting for three decades some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it in full.