Blast rocks upscale mall in Colombian capital

A crowd stand outside the Andino Mall in Bogota on Saturday after an explosive device went off in a restroom. The shopping centre is in an affluent area of the capital that is popular with foreigners.
A crowd stand outside the Andino Mall in Bogota on Saturday after an explosive device went off in a restroom. The shopping centre is in an affluent area of the capital that is popular with foreigners.PHOTO: REUTERS

Three, including Frenchwoman, killed in Bogota attack condemned by country's two biggest guerilla groups

BOGOTA • Three people, including a young Frenchwoman, were killed and nine wounded when an explosion rocked an upscale mall in Bogota, as Colombia's only active guerilla group condemned the blast.

President Juan Manuel Santos said there were "no clear indications" who was behind Saturday's explosion, emphasising that those responsible would be captured and held accountable.

"Terrorists are not going to change our ways," he said at the scene of the attack, urging Colombians to continue "normal life" and enjoy the Father's Day holiday yesterday.

Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa said authorities could not confirm "which group could be responsible" for the blast, but it was "clearly a cowardly terrorist attack".

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The Frenchwoman, 23, who died had spent six months working in a school in a poor neighbourhood, Mr Penalosa said. Two Colombians also died, the Clinic of the Country said in a statement.

Police said the explosion tore through a restroom in the Centro Andino Mall, crowded with shoppers ahead of Father's Day and located in an affluent area of the Colombian capital that is popular with foreigners.

National police chief Jorge Nieto told reporters "a device" was placed "behind one of the toilets in the women's bathroom" in the shopping centre.

Mr Michael Montoya, who works in a pastry shop on the third floor, said: "We were tending to customers and we heard an explosion on the second floor."

After heading to the scene, he said he and his colleague saw people crying and bloodstained.

Mr Andres Bermudez, his hands still trembling in the aftermath of the attack, described "people crying in panic."

"It's a miracle I'm alive," he said, explaining that he had been in the mall to pay some bills.

Police, ambulances and firefighters swiftly arrived at the shopping centre, popular for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Late on Saturday, clubs in the area still opened their doors to revellers, though fewer people than usual walked the streets.

Colombia is still grappling with a civil conflict that has lasted more than half a century between guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and state forces - leaving at least 260,000 dead, 60,000 missing and 7.1 million displaced.

The government is seeking a "complete peace" after reaching a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc, the country's biggest guerilla group.

The National Liberation Army (ELN), with 1,500 fighters, is the country's second-largest insurgent group and the last guerilla group still active in the country. It was quick to condemn the attack.

Farc leader Rodrigo Londono - known as Timochenko - also denounced the explosion.

The blast was the second major attack this year in the Colombian capital.

In February, the ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bullring in Bogota, which killed a police officer and wounded more than 20 people.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 19, 2017, with the headline 'Blast rocks upscale mall in Colombian capital'. Print Edition | Subscribe