BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Argentine police defused a bomb discovered in the ceiling of a Buenos Aires theater Tuesday, and authorities said it was timed to explode during an appearance there by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
The bomb was hidden inside the power supply for a ceiling light in the second floor of the Gran Rex theater. It was attached to a cellphone with an alarm set for 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, just when Uribe would have joined a post-speech cocktail with business executives and other important guests, investigative Judge Norberto Oyarbide said.
"It is a simple device but it could have caused deaths," Oyarbide said. "The damage to Argentina would have been huge."
He credited the theater's maintenance and security staff for spotting the device.
The judge spoke after personally surveying the scene where federal police bomb experts were searching for clues inside the historic theater on Corrientes Avenue in the heart of the Argentine capital.
Uribe, who served as Colombia's president in 2002-10, had been invited to speak about his country's transformation as part of a symposium for executives organized by WOM-Latam, a private company that organizes leadership seminars and sold tickets to the cocktail party for more than $500 each.
The judge said that "God willing," the seminar, including Uribe's speech, would proceed as scheduled.
In an email sent earlier to The Associated Press, Uribe said he was unaware of the bomb threat.
Uribe, a popular conservative in a region dominated by leftist leaders, took a hard line against leftist rebels, leading to significant security gains. But human rights activists criticize him for unlawful killings by the military and for making peace with far-right militias that committed thousands of murders.
Earlier this week, a coalition of leftists and Colombians living in Argentina said the symposium's organizers were falsely presenting Uribe as a great peacemaker who made Colombia highly attractive to foreign investment. They accused him of committing "the most atrocious crimes."
Associated Press writer Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.