WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence suspects Shining Path guerrillas of detonating a car bomb near the U.S. embassy in Lima, Peru, two U.S. officials said Thursday.
While no one has claimed responsibility, the Wednesday attack has some of the hallmarks of previous Shining Path attacks, a U.S. intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The car bomb used a "very basic fuse," and was detonated outside a local bank, similar to some previous attacks by the Maoist rebel group, the official said.
"No one has claimed responsibility, so it's not clear," the official said. "But the attack shows some signs of a Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path] operation."
The blast killed at least nine people, none of them from the United States, officials said. However, officials believe the attack was timed to coincide with President Bush's impending visit to the city.
A State Department official said Shining Path is the "likely suspect" in the Lima attack and also an attack early Wednesday on a branch office of the Telefonica phone company in the town of Los Olivos, about 10 miles from the capital.
The White House said Thursday there would be no change in Bush's travel plans. He will be in Lima on Saturday to meet with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo and leaders from Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. He is also traveling to Mexico and El Salvador during the trip.
Bush, speaking in the Oval Office, said "two-bit terrorists" would not deter him from going to Latin America later Thursday.
"We might have an idea" who was behind the bombing, Bush said, adding: "They've been around before."
The car bomb blew up in district of shops and restaurants at about 10:45 p.m. Wednesday, damaging buildings and cars. The heavily protected U.S. embassy, which is set far back from the street, was undamaged.
The Shining Path guerrilla movement — labeled by the United States as a terrorist group — aims to install a communist state through a peasant uprising. It tried to overthrow the Peruvian government in the 1980s and 1990s with waves of bombings, assassinations and peasant massacres.
The fighting, along with the insurgency of the smaller, more traditionally Marxist Tupac Amaru movement, left 30,000 dead.
The group attempted to car bomb the U.S. embassy in Peru in December 1990. It has fallen from its height of perhaps 10,000 fighters to fewer than 500 combatants, many of them in jungles of eastern Peru.
The 1992 capture of its founder and leader, Abimael Guzman, and a fierce crackdown by the government, decimated the group. Its last car bombing in Lima was in 1997.
Peruvian officials announced in December they had broken up efforts to form a Shining Path cell in the capital to plot bombing attacks, including against the U.S. Embassy.
The Tupac Amaru movement is best known for a four-month siege of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in 1996-97.
An American woman currently serving a prison term in Peru, Lori Berenson, was convicted of taking part in planning a Tupac Amaru attack on the Peruvian national legislature.