A terrorist attack on June 17 in the upscale Bogotá, Colombia, shopping mall Centro Andino left three dead and nine injured, one critically. The bombing marks the return of urban terrorism to Colombia’s capital city even while the ink is barely dry on the “peace” settlement President Juan Manuel Santos signed in Havana last year with the narcoterrorist group FARC.
Mr. Santos immediately declared the perpetrators of the crime “enemies of peace.” Thank you, Captain Obvious. But Colombians are asking who did it, and the answers they’re getting are suspiciously murky.
That has given rise to rumors of a cover-up. Yet one thing is certain: Granting impunity for crimes against humanity, as Mr. Santos did for the FARC, has invited more terrorism.
Centro Andino is a national symbol of capitalism and has long been considered a possible terror target. Vehicles entering the parking garage are inspected by police and bomb-sniffing dogs. The areas in and around the mall are blanketed with surveillance cameras. Colombian forensic teams excel at terrorism investigations and count on U.S. technical support for anything they lack. Yet this investigation appears amateurish at best.
Investigators initially said witnesses spotted two suspicious males entering the ladies’ room not long before the bomb went off. Normally video footage would be urgently released to enlist the public in finding the suspects.
Instead the investigation team recruited sketch artists to make composite drawings of the men. The Twitter handle @Oskar_Sc captured the ridiculousness of this: “If you spit a piece of chewing gum” in Andino, “security can show the image from four different angles. They make a composite sketch of the attack?”
The sketches were released Tuesday. A day later the government withdrew them and said they weren’t official.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but that’s not unusual. After the FARC bombed Club El Nogal in 2003 it denied paternity until authorities uncovered documents five years later that proved its guilt for a massacre that killed 36.
The only one to die instantly in the Andino blast was a 23-year-old French national, Julie Huynh. She had been in Colombia for six months doing social work for a nongovernmental organization with links to former FARC guerrillas ostensibly demobilized under the Santos agreement. On June 8 she reportedly took a trip to Cuba. She was at the mall with her mother and planned to leave Colombia within days.
Counterterrorism 101 teaches that in any terrorist attack, those closest to the explosion are prime suspects until they can be cleared. Huynh had to have been near the bomb; the other two women died from their wounds at the hospital. Yet the investigation has produced nothing substantive about any of the victims.
Investigators have said the bomb used ammonia nitrate, a notoriously unstable compound. Whoever took it into a closed area like a bathroom probably was not an explosives expert.
On Wednesday the Colombian news outlet RCN reported in vague terms that the medical examiner found no traces of bomb residue on any of the bodies, a claim that is not credible. When asked, the medical examiner wouldn’t confirm that claim, saying only that he made a report to the attorney general’s office. No one answered that office’s public-affairs lines when I called on Friday, and no report has been made public.
The FARC’s reaction to Huynh’s death has been intriguing. It has oozed sympathy on social media for her but has not mentioned the other victims. A photo of her posted by the FARC contains its seal in the lower left corner. Perhaps unfairly, Colombians are recalling the story of Tanja Nijmeijer, the Dutch national who arrived in Colombia in 2000 under a “social worker” cover and turned out to be a ruthless terrorist.
On Wednesday the police announced arrest warrants for five men and one woman who it said are members of People’s Revolutionary Movement (MRP), an offshoot of the Marxist National Liberation Army (ELN). On Saturday it said it arrested four men and four women alleged to be MRP members involved in the crime. Some were reportedly captured in a town known as a FARC stronghold. It is worth noting that MRP bombings until now have been low-power, nonlethal events in which pamphlets were left behind—very different than Andino.
Huynh’s proximity to the bomb may have been pure coincidence. But the failure to conduct a professional investigation muddies the waters.
Mr. Santos warned Colombians last year that if the FARC isn’t appeased, it will return to urban warfare. Recently the attorney general said that the FARC’s wealth has been uncovered and will be confiscated to compensate its victims. Colombians could be forgiven for fearing that at Centro Andino the FARC responded.
The Wall Street Journal (25-06-2017)