- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

BOGOTA, Colombia — Flags hung outside the Bogota Beer Garden Co. in mourning and defiance yesterday, hours after suspected rebels exploded grenades at two bars frequented by Americans, killing a Colombian woman and injuring at least 72 other persons.

Police, who have a suspect in custody, blamed the nation’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, for the Saturday night attacks in the Zona Rosa — the first insurgent assaults on this popular nightclub district.

It was not immediately known whether Americans were among the casualties or were the targets. The United States backs President Alvaro Uribe’s crackdown on the FARC and other rebels, which is funded partly with $2.5 billion from Washington.

A white banner reading “Never give in to the violent ones” hung outside the Palos de Moguer, the other microbrewery attacked Saturday.

“We cannot let the violence intimidate us,” said owner Guillermo Alvarez Forero. “We want the bar to be as it always has been — a calm place where people come to drink in peace.”

Expensive restaurants, a new shopping center and popular bars and dance clubs line the streets of Zona Rosa. The two microbreweries are generally packed on weekends with U.S. soldiers, embassy workers and journalists, as well as middle- and upper-class Colombians.

The revelry Saturday was interrupted at 11 p.m. when at least one assailant threw the first grenade at the Bogota Beer Garden Co., where young people filled an outside patio.

“I was with my girlfriend at the beer company, celebrating the graduation of a friend from the university, and we were drinking beers when the explosion hit,” said Jose Ramon Marceles, 26, a singer, speaking at a clinic where he was being treated for leg injuries.

A second grenade exploded when it hit a gas-powered heat lamp.

“I was stunned. I didn’t know what had happened,” Mr. Marceles said. “Then, there was another explosion, and a huge flare-up that came from the heat lamp. Then everyone started running like crazy.”

The assailant ran to the nearby Palos de Moguer and tossed another grenade, which landed on a cloth awning and started a fire, witnesses said. Bar stools and tables were knocked over as people tried to escape the flames.

The assailant tried to shove his way through the crowds, but a security guard grabbed him, witnesses said. A 25-year-old man was under arrest in the attacks, said Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus.

“It appears it was the FARC, like always,” National Police Chief Gen. Jorge Castro told reporters.

Since Mr. Uribe took office in August 2002, he has made defeating terrorism the principal goal of his administration.

The FARC has responded by taking its fight into Colombia’s big cities, where it has been blamed for several attacks, including a car-bomb explosion at an exclusive Bogota nightclub in February that killed 36 persons.


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