- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia, Feb. 9 (UPI) — With the death toll at 32 in a bombing that extended chronic countryside insurrection into urban terror, investigators Sunday continued to sift the debris of a popular club building that appeared to be the latest target of Marxist militants.

The Colombian government had already extended, for the second time, the formal State of Emergency throughout the country, a regime that will be in force for a new period of 90 days.

More than 160 people were injured late Friday when a car bomb was detonated on the third floor of the 11-story downtown Club El Nogal building. Recovery crews kept removing additional bodies through Saturday, finding at least 32.

The bomb attack was the most deadly in the country since clashes between Colombia government forces and drug lords in the early 1990s ignited a blaze that took two hours to get under control.

No group 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. A FARC web site complaining of the government's crackdown carried a message that mentioned the date of the explosion with a cryptic reference to retaliation.

"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 Saturday 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," he continued, "offer all appropriate assistance to the Colombian government in bringing to justice the murderers responsible for this act."

President Uribe expects that at the end of the latest 90-day period of special emergency powers that the measures taken under the special prerogatives granted by the State of Emergency regime — such as the rehabilitation zones — will become permanent.

That requires Congress to approve the new National Security and Defense Act that the executive branch will propose in March.

The state of emergency grants the president the authority to restrict free circulation of Colombian citizens, limit residency rights and impose media censorship, among other civil rights restrictions.

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