The Colombian government yesterday blamed leftist ELN rebels for the bombing of a police training academy in Bogota that killed 20 people as well as the attacker and dealt a body blow to the peace process.
On Thursday, a vehicle broke through checkpoints onto the grounds of the General Santander School in the Colombian capital of Bogota before it detonated.
Made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, the ELN began peace talks with the government of former President Juan Manuel Santos in early 2017, but they have been put on hold by President Ivan Duque until the ELN frees its 17 hostages and stops attacks.
"We will not rest until we capture and bring to justice the terrorists involved", he said.
Police director Oscar Atehortua said just four of the deceased cadets have been fully identified because the bodies of numerous victims were badly mutilated.
Auto bombs were frequently used in Colombia during decades of civil war between the government and various leftist rebel groups, as well as in violence involving the Medellin drug cartel led by the late drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Duque's comments came after authorities claimed that a one-armed ELN explosives expert was the person who carried out the attack, the deadliest in the South American nation in 15 years.
Restrepo said he expects the attack to be a defining moment for Duque, who was elected past year on a law and order platform highly critical of his predecessor's peacemaking but since taking office has taken a more moderate stance.
Rebel groups and the Medellín cartel drug boss Pablo Escobar committed, especially in the eighties, a succession of serious bomb attacks in the capital, Bogotá.
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The southwest Arizona desert is less remote but arrests have also sharply increased after years of relative quiet. A group of 115 was found in the same area Thursday.
ELN has been stepping up attacks on police targets in Colombia amid a standoff with the conservative government over how to re-start stalled peace talks.
TRT World's Arabella Munro has more.
Officials quickly identified the perpetrator as Jose Aldemar Rojas, saying that in the attack, he drove into the academy aboard his 1993 gray Nissan Patrol auto that was loaded with 80 kg of pentolite, a composite high explosive.
TRT World spoke with Colombian journalist Richard McColl, who said the blast has "severely wounded" many police cadets.
"We have nothing to do with that war, we condemn any terrorist act and hoist the flags of peace", he added.
Video footage and photos of the aftermath shows the academy campus strewn with debris, and buildings shaken.
"It's highly likely that President Duque will decide in the coming days to break off peace negotiations with the ELN, negotiations which were already deadlocked", according to analyst Frederic Masse. They won't bend us.
Vehicle bombs were frequent in Colombia during decades of civil war between the state and various leftist rebel groups, as well as in violence involving the Medellin drug cartel led by drug lord Pablo Escobar.