- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 8 (UPI) — Investigators in Colombia are blaming Marxist militants for a car bomb that left ripped through a multi-story club complex, killing at least 25 people and injuring more than 150 others, authorities said Saturday.

The Friday night blast, which appears to have originated in a third-floor parking lot, caught the upscale Club El Nogal building in full swing, trapping people on the upper floors. The bomb attack — the most deadly in Colombia since clashes between government forces and drug lords in the early 1990s — ignited a blaze that took two hours to get under control.

Emergency workers were still removing bodies Saturday. Media reports indicated a number of children were in the building at the time of the explosion, and the club is a favorite of upper-class foreigners as well as Colombians. It encompassed a swimming pool, playing courts and an art gallery as well as hotel and restaurant facilities.

No group immediately claimed responsibility but Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos blamed the far-left rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Known by its Spanish initials, FARC, the group used mortars last August to attack the presidential palace during Uribe's inauguration.

"It was a huge explosion — I thought an airplane had crashed outside," Luis Moreno, who lives across the street from the club, told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe toured the wreckage and offered an $180,000 reward for information about who was behind the suspected terror attack. Experts in explosives from the United States were summoned for the investigation.

U.S. President George Bush extended "deepest sympathy" for the devastation Saturday and added in a statement, "We stand with the Colombian people in their fight against narcoterrorists who threaten their democratic way of life. We will offer all appropriate assistance to the Colombian government in bringing to justice the murderers responsible for this act."

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