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LatinNews Daily - 16 June 2021

COLOMBIA: Car bomb injures 36 at military compound

On 15 June a car bomb was detonated at a military compound in Cúcuta, the capital of Colombia’s Norte de Santander department, injuring 36 people.

Analysis:

The bombing raises serious questions about how the perpetrators were able to gain entry to the military base and what lessons were learnt from the January 2019 bombing of a police academy in the capital, Bogotá. These concerns are especially acute in Norte de Santander department, where guerrilla groups including the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) have a strong presence. US troops were present at the time of the attack and may have been the intended target. The government led by President Iván Duque has indicated that it believes the ELN is responsible for the bombing, which would effectively eliminate the prospect of a resumption of peace negotiations with the insurgent group.

  • Defence Minister Diego Molano Aponte said that the “vile and demented” attack was most likely orchestrated by the ELN, but that the authorities are also investigating the possible culpability of the dissident 33rd Front of the disbanded Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) guerrilla group. No organisation has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
  • Molano said that a pickup truck was driven into the headquarters of the army’s 30th Brigade by two men disguised as public workers. A first explosion was followed two minutes later by a much larger detonation, which caused the majority of the damage and injuries. Two civilians were among the 36 people injured in the attack; Molano said that the majority of injuries were minor. According to the local press, the blasts occurred next to an office building that was largely empty due to a high number of staff self-isolating with coronavirus (Covid-19), thereby reducing the number of casualties.
  • The US embassy in Bogotá said that a “small number” of US soldiers were present at the military site when the bomb exploded, but that none of these were seriously injured. The embassy stated that these troops were at the base to train a Colombian military unit.
  • President Duque travelled to Cúcuta following the explosion to meet with the military high command and the municipal and departmental authorities. Announcing a Col$500m (US$135,200) reward for information leading to the suspects’ capture, Duque said that a special investigative unit will be created, which will be supported by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). He also said that the number of police and military checkpoints in Cúcuta will be doubled to 14, and that there would be an increased security presence guarding the city’s critical infrastructure. Duque also announced that military patrols along the border with Venezuela will be stepped up, and said in some areas motorcyclists would be forbidden from carrying passengers to reduce the risks of drive-by shootings.
  • The attack recalled the ELN’s January 2019 car bombing that killed 21 people at a police academy in Bogotá. Questions will be raised as to why security protocols were not improved following that incident – especially as the perpetrators of the attack in Cúcuta were allowed by security guards to enter the compound, compared to the Bogotá incident in which a driver smashed through security barriers before carrying out his suicide attack.

Looking Ahead: If it is determined that the ELN was responsible for the attack, that would almost certainly rule out the possibility of a resumption of peace negotiations, which Duque called off following the January 2019 Bogotá bombing. Duque announced that military investigators would create a “detailed reconstruction” of events within the compound, which will be presented at a press conference today (16 June).