French woman among three dead after ‘cowardly terrorist bombing’ in busy Colombian shopping mall

Witnesses told of being evacuated from movie theatres and stores after the blast in a second-floor women’s restroom at the upscale Centro Andino in the heart of Bogota’s tourist district

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 10:49am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 9:38pm

Three people including a young Frenchwoman were killed and nine wounded when an explosion rocked an upscale Bogota mall, as Colombia’s only active guerrilla group condemned the blast.

President Juan Manuel Santos said there were “no clear indications” who was behind the explosion, emphasising that those responsible would be captured and held accountable.

“Terrorists are not going to change our ways,” he said at the scene of the attack, urging Colombians to continue “normal life” and enjoy the Father’s Day holiday on Sunday.

One French woman, 23, died in Saturday’s attack, according to the city’s mayor. Two Colombians also died, the Clinic of the Country said in a statement.

Another 48-year-old French woman was among the injured, according to the clinic.

Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa also said authorities could not confirm “which group could be responsible” for the blast, but it was a “cowardly terrorist bombing,”

Police said that at about 5:00 pm 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.

Police said a potent explosive, possibly made of ammonium nitrate, had caused the destruction.

National police chief General Jorge Nieto told reporters “a device” was placed “behind one of the toilets in the women’s bathroom” in the shopping centre.

Michael Montoya, who works in a pastry shop on the third floor, said that “we were tending to customers and we heard an explosion on the second floor.”

After heading to the scene he said he and his colleague saw people crying and bloodstained.

“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.”

Photographs on social media showed a woman slumped against the wall with a pool of blood around her and what appeared to be a large shard of metal piercing her back. In front of her was another woman with her leg torn apart above the knee.

Another image showed the destroyed toilet cubicle with a blood-splattered handrail and debris strewn all over the floor.

Police, ambulances and firefighters swiftly arrived at the scene, popular for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Julie Huynh, the Frenchwoman who died, had spent six months working in a school in a poor neighbourhood, Bogota’s mayor 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.”

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 million 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, but 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.”

The blast was the second major attack this year in the Colombian capital.

In February the ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bullring in Bogota, which killed a police officer and wounded more than 20 people.

Additional reporting by Reuters