Suspect in Colombian Bombing Said to Belong to a Rebel Group

Suspect in Colombian Bombing Said to Belong to a Rebel Group

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The suspect in a car bombing that left 21 people dead on Thursday in Bogotá, the capital,was a member of the country’s largest remaining guerrilla group, the defense ministry said Friday.

José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, the assailant who was also killed in the attack, was a member of the National Liberation Army, a Marxist rebel group known as the ELN, said Guillermo Botero, the Colombian defense minister.

The group did not claim responsibility for the bombing, but it has stepped up attacks against the government since its rival, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, signed a peace deal with the government in 2016.

Thursday’s attack was the first car bombing in Bogotá in years, a gruesome reminder of a time when drug lords and rebel groups ravaged the capital’s streets with car bombs, killing hundreds of civilians and members of the security forces. Since the signing of the peace accords, the Colombian government has said it turned the page on that violent era.

Scenes of the carnage tell a different story. Cellphone videos shared with The New York Times on Friday and filmed by someone who was at the scene showed a burning vehicle with a dismembered torso in blue pants sprawled in front of the flames. The camera also captured images of a human foot and what appeared to be a severed head. Rescue workers struggled to carry survivors out on stretchers.

The attack against security forces in Colombia’s center of power marked an escalation of hostilities with the ELN, which in the last year has bombed police stations, attacked oil pipelines and kidnapped soldiers, police officers and military contractors. And it will almost certainly derail negotiations with the group, which says it is seeking a similar peace deal as the FARC, said Jairo Libreros, a professor at Externado University in Bogotá and a security analyst who tracks the group.

“This kind of thing has an impact,” said Jenifer Beltrán, 36, a mother of two who was home when she heard the explosion. “It makes you think that once again the country is headed toward that memory of those years when there were so many car bombs and attacks everywhere.”

By midday Thursday, relatives of students of the Santander General School had gathered by the building to search for their loved ones.

Among them was Leonor Pardo, a saleswoman whose 21-year-old son had been studying at the academy and had just been found unharmed.

“We heard an explosion — it was horrible because the first thing I thought of was my son,” said Ms. Pardo, who was near the police academy at the time. “I fainted.”

Even before Mr. Botero spoke on Friday, local news reports speculated that the bombing may have been the work of Colombia’s remaining guerrilla fighters, many of whom remain at large.

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