Colombia Police Deactivate Truck Bomb Left by Drug Traffickers
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Police defused a truck bomb containing more than a half-ton of dynamite on Thursday that had been planted by drug traffickers hoping to destroy several blocks of a wealthy Bogota neighborhood during the morning rush hour.
Military armor and patrols poured out of army bases and into the streets minutes after the attempt.
Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, who police said could easily have become a victim, 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 last Tuesday in Medellin, was released unharmed Thursday in that northwestern Colombian city, home of Medellin’s cocaine cartel.
In a communique, 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.
Gunmen working for the Medellin cartel killed another policeman Thursday in Medellin, bringing to 15 the number of officers killed there since Monday.
Police Chief Col. Carlos Alberto Otalora of Medellin says the cartel is paying $4,300 for each officer killed.
Most of a surge of violence believed drug-related has been concentrated in Medellin.
On Wednesday, gunmen entered a tavern and began shooting indiscriminately. Two doctors, a university professor, an engineer and two waiters were killed and two people wounded.
Police found five shot bodies at a downtown soccer field and three bodies on the city outskirts of the city. Two bodies were found in a northern neighborhood known as a center for gangs of hired murderers. An off-duty soldier was shot dead. Authorites have not established responsibility for the massacres, but similar killings have been carried out by rival gangs working for drug traffickers.
Police on Thursday sent 600 reinforcements to the city of 2 million inhabitants to try to control the bloodshed.
The cartel said last week it would kill police officers and explode a bomb in a wealthy section of Bogota in retaliation for the government’s continued repression of traffickers.
At 7 a.m., police officers patrolling a main avenue in northern Bogota 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 told The Associated Press.
The lieutenant, who spoke on the condition of not being identified, said the interior minister passed by the truck bomb minutes before police discovered it. He said Serpa’s apartment lies 1 1/2 blocks from the bomb site.
″If the bomb had gone off, it would have wiped out two square blocks,″ he reported.
Two private schools with a total of 2,000 pupils lie within two blocks of the site.
Other major figures live in the neighborhood of luxury high-rises, embassies and consulates. They include 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 explosion killed 63 people. It was part of a terrorist campaign meant to force the government to abandon its policy of extraditing drug traffickers.
The attacks began in August after Barco ordered an all-out war on drugs.
Bombings and other terrorist actions ended in January when the cartel declared a truce, but the cartel announced it was restarting the terrorist campaign last week.