- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia Colombia's government blamed leftist rebels yesterday for a car bomb that ripped through an exclusive social club, killing 32 persons including six children and injuring 162 in the worst terrorist attack in Bogota in more than a decade.
The bomb, which gutted the 11-story club Friday evening, was planted on the third floor in a parking garage and was packed with 330 pounds of explosives, officials said.
The attack was a shock to capital residents accustomed to a war, in its fourth decade, fought mostly in the countryside. Vice President Francisco Santos said he had "no doubt" the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, was responsible.
He blamed the rebel organization for adopting the tactics of the drug lords who plague the country as well.
Not since drug lord Pablo Escobar unleashed a bloody campaign to avoid extradition to the United States had Bogota seen an attack of this magnitude. With Escobar's death in 1993 and the subsequent breakup of Colombia's large drug cartels, the rebels inherited control of the country's cocaine trade.
FARC recently vowed to take its drug-financed war against the state to the cities and attack the country's elite people such as the businessmen and politicians who frequent the Nogal club.
The rebel group did not claim responsibility for the attack. Local media outlets, however, speculated that a message posted on a Web site used frequently by the rebels contained a veiled warning.
The message, signed by an unknown group and posted Thursday, complained bitterly of President Alvaro Uribe's hard-line government and of the prominent people who support it. The message ends: "We'll see on the 7th at six." The bomb exploded Friday, Feb. 7, shortly after 8 p.m.
President Bush, in a message to Mr. Uribe, condemned the "barbaric act of terrorism" and offered support in Colombia's "fight against narcoterrorists who threaten their democratic way of life."
The death toll increased, from 25 to 32, yesterday afternoon and included six children, said Carolina Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office. An additional 162 persons were injured, she said.
Yesterday, firefighters searched through the rubble of the club, one of Colombia's most exclusive a symbol of wealth and power that had 2,000 members. Inside were restaurants, a small golf course, a gym and rooms for overnight guests. On Friday night, it was packed with revelers, businessmen attending meetings and a group of children who were to perform a ballet.
Though officials had held little hope that anyone was alive in the wreckage, rescuers found a 12-year-old girl, Maria Camila Garcia, between the third and fourth floors, Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio said after touring the scene. The girl had minor injuries. Her uncle said both her parents had been killed.
Family members of missing employees and patrons of the club gathered yesterday near the building as stories emerged of how more than 40 people, including several children, managed to escape from the fifth floor. They slid down a large plastic tube, apparently part of the building detached in the explosion, that was near a hole where air came in through the smoke.
"That's how my small children got out," said Luis Carlos Naranjo, explaining that his 2-year-old daughter slid down the tube on the shoulders of her nanny. His 4-year-old son escaped the same way, with the help of a waiter.

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