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9 Die in Blast Outside U.S. Embassy

March 21, 2002

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LIMA, Peru (AP) _ A car bomb exploded outside the U.S. Embassy in Lima, killing at least nine people and injuring dozens. President Bush said Thursday he would go ahead with a planned weekend visit to the Peruvian capital.

In the chaos following the blast Wednesday evening, the victims _ including at least two police officers and a young man wearing roller skates _ lay in the rubble-strewn street. Prosecutor Maria del Pilar Peralta said at least nine people were confirmed dead. The U.S. Embassy said no Americans were killed.

The car bomb ripped through a district of upscale shops and restaurants at about 10:45 p.m., damaging buildings and cars, but not harming the fortress-like embassy, which is set far back from the street.

The White House said Thursday there would be no change in Bush’s travel plans, which take him to Lima on Saturday for a meeting with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo and leaders from Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador.

Bush, speaking in the Oval Office, said ``two-bit terrorists″ would not deter him from going to Latin America later Thursday. ``We might have an idea″ who was behind the bombing, Bush said, adding: ``They’ve been around before.″

There was no claim of responsibility for the blast, but many Peruvians believed it was the work of the Shining Path rebel movement, which tried to overthrow the government in the 1980s and early 1990s with a campaign of car bombings, assassinations and peasant massacres that killed thousands of people.

The Maoist-inspired Shining Path, which once numbered as many as 10,000 fighters, largely fell apart after the 1992 capture of its founder and leader, Abimael Guzman, and a fierce crackdown by the government. Its last car bombing in Lima was in 1997.

But the government says the movement still has about 500 combatants hiding out in the jungles of eastern Peru, and officials announced in December they had broken up efforts to form a Shining Path cell in the capital to plot bombing attacks, including against the U.S. Embassy.

``I pray it doesn’t start again,″ said Regina Fetzer, 25, inspecting the damage to her Volkswagen Jetta near the scene of the attack early Thursday.

President Toledo, speaking from a U.N. development meeting in Monterrey, Mexico where Bush was heading, condemned the attack.

``I will not permit democracy to be undermined by terrorist attacks,″ Toledo told Peru’s leading radio station, Radioprogramas. ``We will not give one centimeter. I am going to apply a hard-line policy within the framework of the law.″

The street outside the embassy was littered with shards of glass, brick and charred car parts. The blast shattered windows in a nearby bank and hotel building and damaged at least 10 cars, including one that apparently contained the bomb. A small police truck was mangled, its hood peeled back and shredded.

Deputy fire commander Juan Piperis said at least 30 people were injured and taken to a nearby hospital. He estimated about 66 pounds of explosives had been used in the bomb.

No Americans were hurt in the blast, according to a State Department official in Washington. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined further comment.

Jose Victor Ortiz, 22, a business school student who lives nearby, rushed to the scene when he heard the explosion.

``I saw a mutilated body to my right and another on a stairway on the other side,″ he said. ``When I crouched down, I saw a policeman thrown down on the ground. He had glass encrusted in his cheek and his forehead and he was asking me to help him and that he couldn’t feel his legs.″

Security in the capital has been boosted in anticipation of Bush’s arrival on Saturday, part of his first visit to South America as president.

In a separate blast Wednesday, a small bomb exploded just before dawn outside an office of Peru’s Spanish-owned telephone company, causing damage but no injuries, police said. Police said a man left the explosive in a backpack, then fled in a car.

Some 30,000 people died in the violence of the 1980s and 1990s during the insurgencies of the Shining Path and the smaller and less deadly Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The Tupac Amaru movement is best known for a four-month siege of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima in 1996-97.

Guzman, Shining Path’s leader, is now serving a life sentence in prison. In the late 1990s, the government launched a tough campaign _ including secret military courts that brought international criticism _ and jailed hundreds of the movement’s members.

Nevertheless, Jhon Caro, a former director of Peru’s anti-terrorism police, blamed the embassy attack on the Shining Path.

The attack was probably provoked by ``Bush’s declarations that he is going to fight against terrorism around the world,″ Caro said.

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