Published: Fri, January 18, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

21 dead in auto bomb attack at Bogota police cadet training

21 dead in auto bomb attack at Bogota police cadet training

A vehicle bomb exploded outside a police academy on Bogota, Colombia on Thursday leaving at least nine dead and dozens injured, the city's mayor Enrique Penalosa said.

The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the midmorning attack, the biggest against a police or military facility in the capital in years.

Rafael Trujillo said he was delivering a care package to his son Gerson, who entered the school just two days ago, when he was stopped in his tracks by the blast that destroyed windows in apartment buildings as far as four blocks away.

Images on social media showed the remains of a vehicle in flames in the parking area of the police school, and emergency responders at the scene.

But the ELN rebel group has increased attacks on police since peace talks stalled when the rebels refused to heed the government demand that it free all hostages.

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

Auto bombs were frequent in Colombia during decades of civil war between the state and various leftist rebel groups, as well as in violence involving the Medellin drug cartel led by drug lord Pablo Escobar.

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

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The worst of the war, which killed some 260,000 and left millions displaced, ended when the government reached a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in 2016.

"The brutal act of terrorism in Bogota took the life of a compatriot", Moreno said on Twitter. "Colombia will demonstrate that it is a strong state, united and won't break in the face of the dementia of these aggressions".

But in the wake of the peace accord, the Cuban-inspired insurgency has been gaining strength, especially along the eastern border with Venezuela, where it has carried out several kidnappings and bombings of oil pipelines that have hardened Duque's resolve in refusing to resume peace talks.

But as Colombia's conflict has wound down, attacks have fallen to historically low levels and residents in turn have lowered their guard, something that magnified the shock at Thursday's carnage. Previous year the ELN accused Duque of trying to "shatter" the peace process by adding conditions to the resumption of the process.

Other possible assailants include the country's Usuga drug cartel, which has suffered a number of setbacks at the hands of the police, and dissident members of the FARC.

Despite a long history of guerrilla violence in Colombia, major terrorist bombings in the country have been rare.

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. "This will not be an exception", he told a news conference at the school in the south of the city.

Investigators are reportedly looking into Rojas' possible ties with the rebel group after reports - so far unconfirmed - that he was a longtime explosives expert for an ELN cell who went by the alias Mocho Kiko.

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