Drug traffickers blamed for bomb attack on Colombia police station that killed 5, injured dozens
Police chief said bomb attack may have been carried out by associates of a local crime boss known as ‘Happy’, who was arrested recently on charges of drug trafficking, extorting businesses and terrorising residents
At least five police officers were killed and 41 others wounded when drug traffickers detonated a bomb at a station in the northern city of Barranquilla, hours after a car explosion ripped through a security post near the border in neighbouring Ecuador.
There was no apparent link between the two attacks, but they come as President Juan Manuel Santos seeks to end the armed conflict that has wracked Colombia for 50 years. Much of the violence has been linked to drug trafficking.
The bombing in Barranquilla was one of the deadliest on security personnel in recent years, casting a pall over preparations for the annual carnival, a major attraction in the bustling Caribbean port city.
Barranquilla police commander Mariano Botero said the bomb detonated as the officers gathered for morning formation.
A police source said that 49 officers were at the site when the bomb exploded. Of those, five officers aged between 24 and 31 were killed and 41 were wounded.
A 31-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack, according to Attorney General Nestor Martinez.
“We will charge (him) with five aggravated murders … attempted murder, terrorism and use of explosives,” Martinez said.
Barranquilla Mayor Alejandro Char quickly blamed drug traffickers for the attack.
“I do not have the slightest doubt that this is a retaliation” for successful police action against drug traffickers, he said.
Brigadier General Mariano Botero, head of Barranquilla’s police, said the attack may have been carried out by associates of a local crime boss known as “Happy”, who was arrested recently on charges of drug trafficking, extorting businesses and terrorising residents with threats of murder in the Caribbean city.
Colombia is the world’s top producer of cocaine, and criminal groups have flooded the country’s main cities with drugs in a move known as “microtrafficking”.
President Juan Manuel Santos blasted the “cowardly attack” on Twitter.
“We will not rest until we find those responsible, my solidarity is with the families of the victims and the wounded,” Santos wrote.
Joining Santos was the presidential candidate of the FARC, the former guerilla group which is now a leftist political party.
Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londono “vehemently” condemned the Barranquilla attack.
“All our solidarity is for the relatives of the slain police,” he wrote on Twitter.
Santos reached a historic peace agreement with the FARC – formerly known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – in November 2016. That led to the rebels’ disarmament and transformation into a political party.
The president, who is set to step down in August, is hoping to reach a similar agreement with the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) guerillas.
In an apparently unrelated attack in Ecuador, not far from the country’s border with Colombia, a car bomb destroyed the San Lorenzo police barracks.
President Lenin Moreno called it a “terrorist act linked to gangs of drug traffickers”.
The blast slightly wounded 28 people – both locals and police. Some 37 homes were destroyed, according to the Interior Ministry.