An attack with a car bomb in a police academy in Bogota on Thursday left at least 21 dead, including the alleged assailant and 68 wounded, in an act of terrorism that cries a Colombia that skates in its efforts to put to silence the oldest armed conflict in America.
The authorities have identified the man who drives the vehicle as José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, even if they did not reveal the clues to the group that was behind the worst terrorist action in the Colombian capital in the last 16 years.
Of a Colombian nationality, Rojas Rodríguez entered "in a violent way" in a gray Nissan Patrol truck loaded with 80 kilos of pentolite to General Francisco de Paula Santander School of Officers south of Bogotá, around 9:30 local time (2.30 pm GMT), police said in a statement.
This "crazy act of terrorism will not go unpunished, we Colombians have never surrendered to terrorism, we have always defeated it, it will not be an exception", said President Ivan Duque in a press statement with the Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez.
Neither Duque nor Martinez connected Rojas to any of the armed groups still operating in Colombia, financed by drug trafficking, after the peace pact with the former FARC guerrillas in 2016.
The explosion left at least 21 dead and 68 wounded, 58 of whom were discharged, police said.
The authorities are working to identify the bodies and fear that the number of victims will increase.
At the time of the epidemic in the training center there were police delegations from Panama and Ecuador. The Ecuadorian cadet Erika Chicó died and his compatriot Carolina Sanango was slightly injured. Two Panamanians in uniform, from a group of 45 citizens, were wounded although they are "stable", according to the president of their country, Juan Carlos Varela.
Meanwhile, the Colombian government has decreed three days of mourning.
– Few clues –
The Colombian authorities did not specify the exact number of uniformed deaths.
The vehicle, which according to the indictment had passed a review in July 2018 in Arauca (border with Venezuela), exploded as part of a ceremony to promote officers and cadets after having broken out violently.
"I felt as if the sky had fallen into the head, it was a big explosion, and when I came out it was a big smoke," said Rocío Vargas, a local resident.
According to police reports, an anti-explosive dog has detected the charge. Once discovered, Rojas accelerated and invested an agent. Three uniforms were behind the vehicle exploded a few seconds later.
It is the worst act of terror in the Colombian capital since February 2003, when the FARC party rebels detonated a car bomb in the El Nogal club. Thirty-six people died and dozens were injured.
– Notice in the country –
On the day after the attack, President Duque said in a message to the nation that he ordered "to strengthen border controls and the entry and exit of cities".
"In addition, I asked to prioritize all investigations (…) to identify the intellectual authors of this terrorist attack and its accomplices," he said.
Duque, which took office last August, strengthened its anti-drug policy after inheriting a record number of illegal crops and cocaine production in 2017.
At the same time, he set the conditions for reactivating the peace dialogues with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the last guerrilla recognized in Colombia. No group attributed this attack at the time.
In addition to ELN, which has previously recognized explosive attacks against the police, paramilitary drug gangs and FARC dissidents are fighting for territorial control amid a spiral of selective violence against social leaders leaving 438 deaths from January 2016.
A year ago, the police were also the target of a bomb attack inside a police station in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla. Six in uniform were killed and 40 wounded. Days later, ELN, whose peace delegation is in Havana, was rewarded with action.
– International solidarity –
On the eve of Thursday's attack a new group of aspiring officers had entered the school. Others, like Jonathan Oviedo, have resumed their lessons.
"My brother Jonathan, who is a cadet, managed to talk to us and told us he was injured, then a lieutenant went to the phone and the communication was interrupted," said Carol Oviedo.
Meanwhile, Duque has called for Colombian collaboration to "dismantle the criminal structure" that carried out the attack, although he was careful to mention a specific organization.
From the United Nations office in Colombia to the United States, through the government of Venezuela – with which Bogotá has frozen relations – and the FARC have condemned the act and expressed solidarity.
With about eight million inhabitants, Bogotá has been shaken by sporadic acts of terrorism in 2017. In February of that year, ELN claimed responsibility for an attack on a police patrol that left a soldier in uniform and some seriously injured in the neighborhood of La Macarena. .
That same year, an attack in a mall left three dead and several wounded. The authorities have accused the event of the People's Revolutionary Movement (MRP), a small group of left-wing extremists.