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URGENT Truck Bomb Kills 23, Injures 1,000 in Bogota

December 6, 1989

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A truck bomb exploded during rush hour today in downtown Bogota, killing at least 23 people and injuring about 1,000 near a building housing Colombia’s federal police force, reports said.

Several stores were destroyed, and police appealed for anyone in the area with picks and shovels to help search through rubble for survivors. Cries for help could be heard beneath some of the ruins, according to radio reports.

The explosion left a crater 15 feet deep and 30 feet across, and it damaged or dstroyed 60 cars. A car located 10 feet from the bomb’s crater had the roof flattened, and a body was hanging from a window.

The owner of a hardware store cried out in agony when he saw the bodies of his wife and daughter brought out of the rubble. Only his little girl’s patent leather shoes were visible beneath the bloody sheet covering her.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on drug traffickers who have repeatedly bombed the nation’s city’s in an effort to stop the government from extraditing suspected traffickers to the United States.

The explosion occurred less than 24 hours after the government said a bomb placed aboard a Colombian airliner had caused it to crash shortly after takeoff from Bogota last month, killing all 107 people aboard. Authorities believe the drug traffickers also may have been responsibile for that bomb.

Also today, a reputed Colombian drug dealer who is a nephew of one of the nation’s drug kingpins was reportedly arrested in Switzerland.

The truck, which was rigged with dynamite, exploded in front of the headquarters of the Department of Administrative Security, Colombia’s federal investigations police, the radio reports said.

The bomb damaged the headquarters and several nearby stores. The blast occurred at 7:30 a.m., after the headquarters had opened for the day.

An hour later, firefighters still were trying to control fires amid the remains of stores, and columns of smoke rose over the downtown area.

The Colombian radio networks RCN and Caracol were reporting from the scene of the bombing and quoted police officials there on the number of fatalities.

In a live broadcast interview with Caracol, Health Minister Eduardo Diaz said about 1,000 people had been treated hospitals for bomb blast injuries.

The police department, known as the DAS, is where many foreigners usually line up at this time of year to get authorization to leave the country for Christmas vacations. However, it was not known immediately if any foreigners were among the victims of the explosion. The foreigners must get clearance from th DAS, which determines whether they face any criminal charges in Colombia.

The building is near a plaza that is normally filled with fruit and candy vendors in the morning and scores of people walking to work.

The goverment of President Virgilio Barco declared war on the nation’s cocaine cartels after Sen. Luis Carlos Galan, a leading presidential candidate and anti-drug crusader, was assassinated on Aug. 18. As part of the crackdown, the government has been extraditing drug suspects wanted on charges in the United States.

The drug traffickers have responded with a nationwide bombing campaign. More than 200 attacks have killed 29 people and wounded 238.

Hours after the report on the plane bombing Tuesday, a judge investigating drug traffickers was assassinated, the fourth judge killed in 15 weeks.

Judge Bernardo Jaramillo Uribe was shot and killed while strolling through Medellin, the base of the South American country’s largest cocaine cartel.

In June, Jaramillo ordered destroyed 770 pounds of cocaine and five drug processing laboratories seized by police in Segovia, 175 miles northwest of Bogota. He also looking into the massacre of 43 people in Segovia on Nov. 11, 1988. The government blamed a paramilitary assassination team financed by drug traffickers.

Authorities investigating the plane crash said that a bomb had been placed inside the passenger area of Avianca Flight 203 that exploded Nov. 27.

Colombians reacted with shock and fear to the official report of the airplane bombing, which caused the highest death toll from a single attack in the wave of terrorism.

In Lugano, Switzerland, police said today that Severo ″Junior″ Escobar, reputedly one of Columbia’s leading drug barons, has been arrested in southern Switzerland.

A police spokesman who declined to give his name confirmed reports in the French-language Tribune de Geneve that the 30-year-old nephew of Colombian kingpin, Pablo Escobar Gaviria, 39, was arrested Nov. 29.

The elder Escobar is considered one of the top 12 Colombian drug dealers sought in the United States and has been indicted five times in Florida and Louisiana and Colorado on a variety of drug charges.

The spokesman declined to give further details.

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