A midday bombing that killed a bodyguard and driver 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 Colombian 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 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 US.
Speculation was widespread that the country’s main leftist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was to blame, but Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said it was too early to assign blame, and announced a US$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 on Tuesday, he said.
Santos, who as defense minister from 2006 to 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 to 2003 under former Colombian 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 US-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 on 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.