- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

LIMA, Peru Peruvian authorities said huge questions remain about a car bomb attack Wednesday night that killed nine persons and wounded 30 in a mall in front of the U.S. Embassy, an attack that came just three days before President Bush's visit.

While CIA officials in Washington say they suspect the Shining Path, the Maoist group that terrorized Peru during the 1980s and early 1990s, investigators here are not nearly so sure.

"To this point we don't know who did it," Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi told reporters yesterday. "But we can't reject any possibility."

Despite major government successes against the shadowy guerrilla group, remnants of the Shining Path have been identified operating in several regions in the mountainous jungles of Peru. The jailed leaders of the group, now confined in a high-security naval prison in Lima, have said they did not order the car bombing.

But some analysts believe that the still-active Shining Path forces, whose numbers Mr. Rospigliosi has estimated at 350 to 400, may have shed the imprisoned leadership's ideology a self-styled Maoist doctrine first outlined by now-jailed leader Abimael Guzman to focus on profiting from the illegal drug trade.

Mr. Bush said yesterday in Washington he would proceed with the Peru visit tomorrow, during which he is to meet with President Alejandro Toledo and the leaders of Peru's Andean neighbors Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

"No two-bit terrorists are going to prevent me from doing what we need to do and that is promote our friendship in the hemisphere," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House.

Mr. Toledo left a U.N. conference on development in Mexico a day earlier than scheduled to deal with the bombing, saying his country "will not allow terrorism to return in Peru."

In December, Shining Path rebels were accused of killing police officers manning a checkpoint leading out of a heavy coca-growing area into the Andes. Along the lines of Colombia's leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels, many feel the Shining Path has dumped its political ideology to run protection rackets for drug traffickers.

"We should take into account that President Bush has said he sees Peru as an ally against drugs and terrorism," said Maximo Rivera, a retired anti-terrorism police general, in a radio interview.

Many officials and politicians have suggested the culprits are sympathizers of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori, who fled to Japan in November 2000 amid a scandal involving his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.

These "Fuji-Montesinistas" may have copied the Shining Path methods in order to destabilize the government of Mr. Toledo, who campaigned fiercely against Mr. Fujimori before taking office in July.

But critics say Mr. Toledo and his supporters have used Montesinos, who is now in the same high-security prison as Guzman, as an all-purpose bogeyman and many Peruvians don't buy it.

Hector Galvez, a retired lawyer, dismissed the idea.

"Toledo hasn't taken action against terrorism," he said. "He can't keep telling us it's a conspiracy against him."

As Peru continues to prepare for the Bush visit, many expect another attack.

"Bush is coming Saturday," said Gonzalo Albin as he watched police and firemen inspect the bomb site and haul away bodies early yesterday.

"There is still time for them to do more."

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