Latin America & Caribbean

Three killed in blast at Colombia shopping centre

Centro Andino mall, Bogota, Colombia, 17 June 2017 Image copyright Natalio Cosoy / BBC
Image caption The Centro Andino mall was evacuated after the blast

Three women have been killed in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, in what the authorities say was a terrorist attack.

An explosion occurred at a shopping centre in the busy Zona Rosa area. Eleven other people were injured in the attack.

Bogota's mayor Enrique Penalosa said that one of those who died was from France.

The authorities say they believe the explosion was caused by a small bomb in a ladies toilet.

The attack happened on a busy Saturday afternoon, when the Andino shopping centre was full of people buying presents for Father's Day, being celebrated on Sunday.

A 23-year-old French woman, Julie Huynh, who had been working as a volunteer at a school in the south of the city was the first victim to be identified.

Ana María Gutiérrez, 27, and Lady Paola Jaimes Ovalle, 31, were taken to hospital, but were later pronounced dead.

Another French citizen, Nathalie Levrand, 48, was admitted with soft tissue trauma, said medical staff at Bogotá Country Clinic.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Police guarding the outside of the mall

It is not yet known who was behind the attack.

The rebel group the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second largest in the country after the Farc, has used one of its Twitter accounts to condemn the attack and say it shared the victims' pain.

They say those who are accusing them of being behind the attack are trying to jeopardise peace talks, which are continuing with the government.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited the mall later on Saturday night and made a statement to the press.

"I do not want to speculate on who could be behind this attack," he said, adding that an investigation was under way.

He called the attack "a vile, cruel, cowardly act", vowed to capture those responsible, and said the country should not panic because that is what terrorists want.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Santos at the Andino shopping centre

Richard Emblin, from Canada, told BBC Mundo that he was the centre's cinema when he heard the noise.

"When the film was about halfway through, there was a really loud explosion. I felt the floor move under my seat," he said.

He was evacuated via a back staircase a few minutes later, not knowing what was going on.


Analysis: Natalio Cosoy, BBC, Bogotá

Everyone is asking who is behind the explosion, which the authorities are calling a "terrorist act".

I asked Bogota's Security Secretary Daniel Mejía that question, and whether it could be a local or foreign group that carried out the explosion. He said nothing could be discounted.

The authorities have been closely monitoring the ELN, which was behind a February bomb attack that left a policeman dead and 26 people injured, 24 of them police officers.

There has been a surge in clashes and operations between the security forces and the ELN in the past few months, as the government and the rebel group try to negotiate a peace deal, similar to the one reached with the Farc in November 2016.

But the ELN mainly attacks security forces, and not civilian targets in the sort of operation we saw on Saturday.

Nonetheless, as Mr Mejía says, nothing can be discounted at this point.

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