Colombia hunts ‘terrorists’ behind deadly mall bombing

Bogota (AFP) – Colombia’s leaders and main rebel groups pledged Sunday that a mall bombing that killed three women would not disrupt the country’s peace process, even as authorities scrambled to find out who was behind the carnage.

The victims — two Colombians and a Frenchwoman — perished when a device exploded in a ladies’ restroom in the crowded Andino shopping center in Bogota on Saturday. At least nine people were also wounded, officials said.

President Juan Manuel Santos called the incident a terrorist attack.

Rebel groups condemned the blast and said it was an attempt to undermine their efforts with the government to end Colombia’s half-century civil conflict.

Police said the explosion occurred at about 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Saturday, sending people running for their lives.

“There was a strong boom and the floor shook,” said shop worker Milena Carcenas.

“There was smoke coming out of the bathroom. People were coming out of there covered in ash.”

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

Authorities have “three concrete hypotheses” on the perpetrators, Santos said Sunday after meeting with investigators, but declined to elaborate to avoid harming the probe.

There was a 100 million peso (about $33,000) reward for “anyone who can give us information to help capture those responsible,” he said.

– Big blow to peace? –

The explosion comes at a delicate time for Colombia’s historic peace process. The country’s biggest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is scheduled to complete its disarmament by Tuesday.

The last active rebel force, the National Liberation Army (ELN), meanwhile, has started talks with the government, though confrontations with state forces have been continuing.

Last year’s peace deal with the FARC was initially narrowly rejected by Colombians in a referendum, with critics saying it was too lenient on the rebels.

A redrafted agreement from…

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