Colombia police academy bombing kills 21, including an Ecuadorian; Tragedy sparks fears of a return to the ‘days of Escobar’

Jan 18, 2019

Twenty-one people have been confirmed killed and another 52 injured in a car bombing at a Colombian police academy in Bogotá, recalling the high-profile attacks associated with the bloodiest chapters of the country’s guerrilla and drug conflicts.

Police outside the Bogota scene of deadly bombing Thursday afternoon.

One Ecuadorian was killed in the blast and another, Carolina Sanango, 20, from Cuenca, was injured.

Among the dead was the alleged bomber, José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, a Colombian national, who drove the Nissan SUV that carried an estimated 80 kilos of explosive material. Police say they have not established a motive.

The scene outside the General Santander police academy was chaotic after the mid-morning explosion, with ambulances and helicopters rushing to the normally tightly controlled facility.

Witnesses said they heard a loud explosion that destroyed windows in adjacent buildings. Pictures on social media showed a charred vehicle surrounded by debris on the academy’s campus.

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Rafael Trujillo said he was delivering a care package to his son Gerson, who entered the school two days ago, when he was stopped in his tracks by the blast a block away from the school’s heavily fortified entrance.

Parents await word about their children outside the police academy.

“I’m sad and very worried because I don’t have any information about my son,” said Trujillo, standing outside the facility, where police officers had set up a taped perimeter. “This reminds me of some very sad days in the past It’s like the time of Pablo Escobar again.”

President Iván Duque, who was visiting a western state, was rushing back to the capital to oversee the police investigation into what he called a “miserable” attack.

“All of us Colombians reject terrorism and are united in confronting it,” Duque said in a tweet. “We won’t bend in the face of violence.”

For decades, residents of Bogotá lived in fear of being caught in a bombing by leftist rebels or Pablo Escobar’s Medellín drug cartel. But as Colombia’s conflict has wound down, and the nation’s largest rebel group disarmed under a 2016 peace deal, security has improved and attacks have become less frequent.

Authorities have yet to suggest who was behind the attack, but attention has focused on leftist rebels from the National Liberation Army, ELN, which has been stepping up attacks on police targets in Colombia amid a standoff with the conservative Duque over how to restart stalled peace talks.

The group known was long considered a lesser military threat than the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), whose 7,000 guerrilla fighters disarmed as part of a 2016 peace accord. But in the wake of the peace deal, the Cuban-inspired insurgency has been gaining strength, especially along the eastern border with Venezuela, where it has carried out a number of kidnappings and bombings of oil pipelines. That has hardened Duque’s resolve in refusing to resume peace talks that have been stalled since he took office last August.

Thursday’s bombing was the deadliest in the capital since an explosion at the upmarket Andino shopping mall in June 2017 killed three people, including a French woman, and injured another 11. Police later arrested several suspected members of a far-left urban guerrilla group called the People Revolutionary’s Movement for the bombing.But it has been more than a decade since a police or military installation in the capital has suffered a major bombing. A blast at military university in 2006 left almost two dozen people injured.

Ariel Ávila, an analyst who tracks violence, said that in the last four years, there have been 28 attacks in the capital with explosives. While the majority has been carried out with low-grade homemade materials and grenades that have damaged property but left no casualties, he said police intelligence and checkpoints surrounding the city need to be reinforced to prevent more attacks.
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