2 dead in Bogota bombing targeting former minister

Associated Press
Pedestrians look at the scene after a bomb exploded in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, May 15, 2012. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says two people were killed in the bomb attack that targeted a former interior minister. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)
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Pedestrians look at the scene after a bomb exploded in Bogota, Colombia, Tuesday, May 15, 2012. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos says two people were killed in the bomb attack that targeted a former interior minister. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A midday bombing that killed two bodyguards of an archconservative former interior minister and injured at least 39 people in a busy commercial district of Bogota has raised fears that violence not seen in the Colombian capital in years could return.

Former Interior Minister Fernando Londono, 68, had glass shards removed from his chest and was out of danger, authorities said.

But the ex-minister's driver and another bodyguard were killed almost instantly. Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro said a pedestrian attached an explosive to a door of Londono's armored SUV and set it off remotely.

Authorities said they had video of Tuesday's attack and Petro said the culprit "walked away disguised." A wig of long black hair and a hat were found nearby.

It was the first fatal bombing of an apparently political nature in the capital in nearly a decade and it traumatized a capital that two decades earlier was ravaged by car bombs set off by drug traffickers fighting extradition to the United States.

Speculation was widespread that the country's main leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was to blame. But President Juan Manuel Santos said it was too early to assign blame, and announced a $277,000 reward for information leading to those responsible.

"We don't know who is behind this attack," he said after meeting with police and military brass, Bogota's mayor and the chief prosecutor. The FARC was behind a car bomb, however, that was detected and deactivated elsewhere in the capital earlier Tuesday, he said.

Santos, who as defense minister in 2006-2009 dealt major setbacks to the rebels, said Londono had in the past received death threats and had about 19 bodyguards.

A stringent critic of the FARC, Londono was interior and justice minister in 2002-2003 under former President Alvaro Uribe.

He hosts a daily radio show called "The Hour of Truth" and firmly opposes peace talks with the FARC, calling the rebels "terrorists" and "murderers."

He has also been critical of Santos for allegedly being soft on the rebels, who have stepped up attacks in recent months.

Under Uribe, Colombia's U.S.-backed military diminished the FARC by roughly half to about 9,000 fighters. Colombia's capital became progressively safer as the conflict was pushed to less populated hinterlands.

The last major bombing in Bogota, in 2003, devastated the exclusive El Nogal social club, killing 36 people. The cocaine trade-funded FARC was blamed, as it was for a pre-dawn bombing outside a building housing Caracol radio in August 2010 that injured nine people.

The district rocked by Tuesday's blast is packed with offices, stores, restaurants and banks, and video of the scene after the blast showed people screaming as police and firefighters assisted the wounded, some with bloodied faces.

Santos said 39 people were injured.

Londono was operated on at the Clinica del Country hospital to close skin wounds and remove glass shards from his chest, said the hospital's director, Jorge Ospina.

The only person seriously injured in the blast was a 38-year-old passer-by in danger of losing his right arm, Ospina said.

Earlier Tuesday, police said they had deactivated a car bomb in a Renault 9 whose trunk contained Indugel, a gelatinous explosive made by Colombia's military.

Santos said its target was apparently a police station in a neighborhood named for his great uncle, former President Eduardo Santos. The driver, who was arrested, "made a series of confessions," he said, that suggested the FARC was to blame.

Santos considers himself a progressive and, in addition to a military hard line against the FARC, has sought to return stolen land to peasants and pay reparations to victims of Colombia's long-running civil conflict.

Analyst Leon Valencia of the Nuevo Arco Iris think tank said the FARC was fully capable of Tuesday's attack but said groups from the extreme right opposed to peace talks proposed by the FARC should not be ruled out.

Leftist congressman and human rights activist Ivan Cepeda said he feared the attack could trigger other acts of violence, including targeting the left.

"I see a clear intent to destabilize," Cepeda said, blaming "sectors who don't want peace."

Political scientist Vicente Torrijos of the Universidad del Rosario supported the theory that the FARC was to blame as it "seeks to show itself to the world as an organization sufficiently strong militarily and not only a weak organization that is only looking to negotiate with the government."

The FARC last month released what it said were its last "political prisoners," 10 police officers and soldiers held for as many as 14 years.

In newspaper columns and on the radio, Londono hasn't just attacked the FARC as the standard-bearer of Colombia's left wing.

He has also firmly defended Uribe against allegations that the former president was too cozy with backers of illegal far-right militias. Dozens of political allies of both men have been imprisoned on criminal conspiracy convictions for colluding with the militias.

The far-right militia leaders made peace with Uribe's 2002-2010 government but most of their top leaders were extradited to the United States, where they are in prison on drug trafficking convictions.

he FARC continue to inflict casualties on security forces in ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.

It currently holds a French journalist who was accompanying security forces on a drug lab-destroying mission when rebels detained him two weeks ago. The FARC said on Sunday that it intends to free him soon.

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Associated Press writers Cesar Garcia and Libardo Cardona in Bogota and Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.

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