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Colombia Police Defuse Truck Bomb

April 6, 1990

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police defused a truck bomb containing more than a half-ton of dynamite they said drug traffickers had planted in hopes of destroying several blocks of a wealthy Bogota neighborhood.

Military armor and patrols filled the streets Thursday morning minutes after the bomb was found.

Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, who police said walked by the truck minutes before the bomb was found Thursday, called an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. He is acting president while President Virgilio Barco is in Europe on a state visit.

Federal Sen. Federico Estrada, 63, who was kidnapped by drug traffickers Tuesday in Medellin, was released unharmed Thursday in that northwestern Colombian city, home of Medellin’s cocaine cartel.

The traffickers had threatened to murder him if police did not release four of their associates. Police have denied detaining the four, and the reason for Estrada’s being freed was not clear.

Police said gunmen working for drug traffickers killed another policeman Thursday in Medellin, bringing to 15 the number of officers killed there since Monday.

The city’s police chief, Col. Carlos Alberto Otalora, says cocaine lords are paying $4,300 for each slaying of an officer.

There has been a surge of violence since last week, when the government extradited another drug suspect to the United States. Drug lords said at the time they would kill police officers and explode a bomb in a wealthy section of Bogota in retaliation.

Most of the violence has been in Medellin, and police on Thursday sent 600 reinforcements to the city to try to stop the bloodshed.

Police officers patrolling a main avenue in northern Bogota Thursday morning saw two men hastily abandon a truck with its motor running.

In the back of the truck police found about 1,100 pounds of dynamite buried under a load of toilet paper and hand soap, a police lieutenant on the scene said.

The lieutenant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Serpa’s apartment is 1 1/2 blocks from the site and that the interior minister passed by the truck minutes before police discovered the bomb.

″If the bomb had gone off, it would have wiped out two square blocks,″ he said.

Two private schools with a total of 2,000 pupils are within two blocks of the site.

Other major figures live in the neighborhood of luxury high-rises, embassies and consulates, including former President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen, presidential candidate Cesar Gaviria and the chief of Colombia’s secret police, Gen. Miguel Maza Marquez.

In one of several attempts to kill Maza, traffickers last December exploded a 1,100-pound truck bomb at the secret police’s Bogota headquarters. The blast killed 63 people.

The attack was part of the terrorist campaign meant to force the government to abandon its policy of extraditing drug traffickers.

Barco revived the policy in August as part of a U.S.-backed crackdown after drug traffickers killed a leading presidential candidate.

Bombings and other terrorist actions ended in January when the drug lords declared a truce, but they announced last week they were resuming their campaign when the government extradited another drug suspect.

Update hourly