The Americas

Explosion in Colombian capital kills 2, injures at least 31

May 15, 2012: Police inspect the scene after a bomb exploded in Bogota, Colombia.

May 15, 2012: Police inspect the scene after a bomb exploded in Bogota, Colombia.  (AP)

A bomb targeting a hardline former Colombian interior minister killed two of his bodyguards and injured at least 31 others in the heart of Bogota's uptown commercial district Tuesday, authorities said.

The former minister, Fernando Londono, was hurt but out of danger, President Juan Manuel Santos said. Video footage showed a stunned Londono being led from the wreckage with bloodstains on part of his chest.

Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro said a pedestrian attached an explosive to a door of Londono's armored SUV and set it off remotely. He said authorities had video of the attack.

The attacker "walked away in disguise" and a wig of long black hair and a hat were found in the area, Petro told reporters.

It was the first fatal bombing in the capital in nearly a decade of an apparently political nature, and while officials didn't ascribe blame, some analysts suspected the country's main rebel band, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

"We don't know what's behind it," said Santos. "But rest assured that the government isn't going to be knocked off track by terrorist acts."

Londono, 68, was interior and justice minister in 2002-2003 under former President Alvaro Uribe.

An archconservative, he currently hosts a daily radio show called "The Hour of Truth." He is firmly opposed to opening a peace process with the FARC, referring to the rebels as "terrorists" and "murderers."

He has also been critical of Santos for allegedly being soft on the rebels, who have stepped up attacks in recent months.

The last major bombing in the Colombian capital was in 2003, when the FARC bombed the exclusive El Nogal social club, killing 36 people.

Under Uribe, Colombia's U.S.-backed military dealt serious setbacks to the FARC, diminishing its numbers by roughly half to about 9,000 currently. Colombia's capital became progressively safer, the conflict increasingly limited to less populated hinterlands.

Santos said Londono's driver and a police bodyguard were killed in the bombing when the SUV was attacked just before midday on Calle 74 a half block from Caracas Avenue. The district is packed with office buildings, stores, restaurants and banks.

Catalina Ballesteros, a 24-year-old student, was a passenger in a bus that was badly damaged by the blast. She escaped with only scratches but said she was surprised how concentrated the force of the blast was on the SUV and adjacent bus. Ballesteros said she saw one man on the street who had fainted.

Former Vice President Francisco Santos, a radio news director and first cousin of the current president, visited Londono in the Clinica del Country hospital and said the former minister had some shrapnel wounds and was saddened by the deaths of his bodyguards.

Another 24 people were treated for injuries from the bombing at the clinic, doctors said. Another six were treated at a different hospital, El Marly, said police Gen. Rodolfo Palomino.

Bogota's health secretary, Guillermo Jaramillo, said the only person seriously injured in the blast was a 38-year-old passerby who was being operated on and was in danger of losing his right arm.

Earlier Tuesday, police said they had deactivated a car bomb in the center of the city and said they presumed it was from the FARC, Colombia's main leftist rebel group, known as the FARC.

Police said they arrested the person who was driving the car. It was not known if the incident was related to the apparent attack on Londono.

The FARC was blamed by authorities for two bombings in February in provincial Colombia that killed at least 16 people. But no government or police officials suggested on Tuesday that it might be behind the bombing apparently directed at Londono.

Military analyst Alfredo Rangelsaid he suspected the FARC because of Londono's hard line against the rebels.

Leftist congressman Ivan Cepeda said he believed the attack had the "clear intention of destabilizing" and blamed "sectors who don't want peace."

The FARC has been seeking peace talks and last month released what it said were its last "political prisoners," 10 police and soldiers.

In newspaper columns and on the radio, Londono firmly defends Uribe against allegations that the former president was too cozy with backers of illegal far-right militias. Dozens of political allies of both men have been imprisoned on criminal conspiracy convictions for colluding with the militias.

The militia leaders made peace with Uribe's government but most of their top leaders were extradited to the United States, where they are serving prison terms on drug trafficking convictions.

The FARC, meanwhile, suffered serious setbacks under Uribe, who left office in 2010, but continue to inflict casualties on security forces in ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.

It currently holds a French journalist who was accompanying security forces on a drug lab-destroying mission when rebels detained him two weeks ago. The FARC said on Sunday that it intends to free him soon.