BOGOTA: Three people including a young Frenchwoman were killed and nine others wounded Saturday when an explosion rocked an upscale Bogota mall, authorities said, as the country’s only active guerrilla group condemned the incident.
One Frenchwoman, 23, died in the attack, according to the city’s mayor. Two Colombians “died as a result of the injuries suffered,” the Clinic of the Country said in a statement.
Another 48-year-old Frenchwoman was among the injured, according to the clinic.
Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa said authorities could not confirm “which group could be responsible” for the blast, but said it was “clearly a cowardly terrorist attack.”
The Frenchwoman who died had spent six months working in a school in a poor neighbourhood, Penalosa said.
French ambassador to Colombia Gautier Mignot confirmed the death of the 23-year-old and told a Bogota radio station that “the young woman was apparently in the company of her mother.”
President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the attack on Twitter. He later arrived at the scene and said there were “no clear indications” who was behind the explosion, but emphasised that those responsible would be captured and held accountable.
National Police chief General Jorge Nieto told reporters that “an artefact” was placed “behind one of the toilets in the women’s bathroom.”
“We have set up a research team to carry out all preliminary investigations,” he said. “We are taking preventive measures.”
Police said that at approximately 5:00pm local time (2200 GMT) the explosion tore through a restroom in the Centro Andino Mall, crowded with shoppers ahead of Father’s Day and located in an upscale area of the Colombian capital that is popular with foreigners.
“We were tending to customers and we heard an explosion on the second floor,” Michael Montoya, who works in a pastry shop on the third floor, told AFP.
“It was in the bathrooms because some women came out crying,” he said. “There was a lot of smoke and security people told us to evacuate.”
The building was evacuated as police, ambulances and firefighters swiftly arrived to the scene popular for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs.
Colombia is still grappling with a civil conflict that has lasted more than half a century between guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and state forces — leaving at least 260,000 dead, 60,000 missing and 7.1 displaced.
The government is seeking a “complete peace,” after reaching a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC.
The ELN, with 1,500 fighters, is the last guerrilla group still active in the country, and was quick to condemn the attack.
“ELN_Paz condemns this deplorable incident,” the group wrote on its Twitter account, noting that the attack was “against civilians.”
“We share the pain and stand in solidarity with the victims,” the group wrote. “The state should investigate thoroughly to identify those responsible.”
The leader of the FARC, Rodrigo Londono — known as Timochenko — also denounced the explosion.
“Solidarity with the victims of today in Bogota,” he wrote on Twitter. “This act can only come from those who want to close the roads of peace and reconciliation.”