BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia's president vowed Saturday to strike back at leftist rebels he blamed for bomb attacks apparently aimed at national lawmakers that injured at least 23 people — including a prominent senator.
An explosion shortly before midnight Friday on the 30th-floor restaurant of the Tequendama Residences during a tango show injured 22 people and blew out windows, showering glass onto a boulevard below.
The bomb was hidden inside a suitcase and detonated by remote control. The hotel is frequently used by lawmakers, although none was injured in the explosion.
Authorities were searching for a man and woman in their 20s suspected of carrying the bomb into the restaurant, Bogota police chief Gen. Hector Castro told reporters.
Three-hours earlier, a bomb disguised as a Christmas present exploded in the office of Sen. German Vargas Lleras as he was opening the package.
Vargas, a member of President Alvaro Uribe's governing coalition, suffered minor injuries to his hands. The senator, a nephew of a former president, has frequently denounced leftist rebels fighting in Colombia's 38-year civil conflict.
Uribe said the attacks targeted legislators and blamed the lefist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The president said the FARC may have used training received from the armed Basque separatist group ETA and Northern Ireland's IRA to carry out the attacks.
"We're going to insist on more action from the armed forces and demand more information from all Colombians," Uribe told reporters shortly after midnight outside a Bogota clinic where Vargas was recovering. "We're going to defeat these people."
Uribe is enlisting thousands of Colombians throughout the country to report on the armed groups for the government.
Later Saturday, the president met with his defense minister and top generals and announced the creation of a government committee to coordinate counterterrorism efforts of the police and military.
The residential hotel is located in the heart of the capital on Bogota's Seventh Avenue, which is lined with stores and museums. Lawmakers from outlying provinces often stay there when congress is in session, as it is now.
The normally combative congress has in recent days shown support for Uribe, approving a referendum on a plan to stem political corruption and authorizing the president to oversee peace talks with right-wing paramilitary groups.
The FARC, whose fighters were blamed for an assassination attempt on Uribe during the presidential campaign that killed innocent bystanders, has accused the president of being a dictator and planning to surrender control of Colombia to the United States.
Uribe promised to battle the rebels during the campaign. A recent Gallup poll put the president's approval rating at 74 percent.
Washington is backing the Colombian government with millions of dollars in military aid and hardware to fight drugs and rebels. Colombia's conflict sets the rebels against the government and the paramilitary armies.