Colombia's leaders fear new attacks

Bombing of club in capital blamed on Marxist rebels

February 09, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The powerful bomb that killed about 20 people in the most exclusive social club in Colombia's capital, Bogota, on Friday night was a blow at the heart of the nation's elite and could signal a new wave of terrorist attacks on the war-torn country's upper classes, Colombian officials and political analysts said yesterday.

Although no group took responsibility for the attack, government officials attributed it to Colombia's largest Marxist rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, which has warned that it would strike against the elite.

At least seven bodies had been identified yesterday among the 19 recovered from the rubble of the exclusive Club El Nogal, but Mayor Antanas Mockus said that 25 people might have been killed by the 330-pound bomb placed in the club's garage. More than 160 people were wounded as the blast tore holes through the 10-story building and set off a fire.

The club was an important meeting place for the country's elite and foreign diplomats. Its members included Interior Minister Fernando Londono, who was not among the casualties.

"Here the confrontation is going to radicalize between the guerrillas, a group that now has more drug money, and the Colombian state," Luis Fernando Ramirez, a former defense minister, said by telephone from Bogota. "This is a way to send a message, since this club is identified with Fernando Londono. This is the club where the entrepreneurs go. It is a good target for them."

The FARC rebels have mostly waged war in the countryside. But the group has recently been blamed for a rash of bombings in Bogota that have killed at least two people and injured dozens. Some political analysts believe the attacks could be a response to increased American involvement in Colombia; U.S. Army soldiers are training Colombian troops in counter-guerrilla warfare.

"There have been increasing indications that the FARC was going to introduce an urban strategy and that urban strategy was meant to essentially be a response to the expanded U.S. role in the Colombian war," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington policy group. "Up to this point there have not been any showcase or trophy sorties, but this one dramatically introduces one to the country and Bogota."

The club, which costs about $15,000 to join, has squash courts, a gym, a large swimming pool and restaurants.

On Friday night, a group of children had planned to put on a ballet performance.

Security was tight at the club. Those who drove into the club's garage had to go through a stringent inspection.

"To put a car bomb that almost weighed 200 kilos in a club with strict security measures is shocking," said Sen. Samuel Moreno, whose wife survived the attack uninjured. "This shows we are all vulnerable."

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