Frenchwoman among the dead

BOGOTA: Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos speaks inside a shopping center following an explosion on Saturday. — AFP

BOGOTA: Three people including a young Frenchwoman were killed and nine wounded Saturday when an explosion rocked an upscale mall in Bogota, as Colombia's only active guerrilla group condemned the blast. President Juan Manuel Santos said there were "no clear indications" who was behind the explosion, emphasizing that those responsible would be captured and held accountable. "Terrorists are not going to change our ways," he said at the scene of the attack, urging Colombians to continue "normal life" and enjoy the Father's Day holiday on Sunday.

One Frenchwoman, 23, died in the attack, according to the city's mayor. Two Colombians also died, the Clinic of the Country said in a statement. Another 48-year-old Frenchwoman was among the injured, according to the clinic. Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa also said authorities could not confirm "which group could be responsible" for the blast, but it was "clearly a cowardly terrorist attack". The Frenchwoman who died had spent six months working in a school in a poor neighborhood, Penalosa said.

Police said that at about 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) the explosion tore through a restroom in the Centro Andino Mall, crowded with shoppers ahead of Father's Day and located in an affluent area of the Colombian capital that is popular with foreigners. National police chief General Jorge Nieto told reporters "a device" was placed "behind one of the toilets in the women's bathroom" in the shopping centre.

'Miracle I'm alive'

Michael Montoya, who works in a pastry shop on the third floor, told AFP that "we were tending to customers and we heard an explosion on the second floor". After heading to the scene he said he and his colleague saw people crying and bloodstained. "It was in the bathrooms because some women came out crying," he said. "There was a lot of smoke and security people told us to evacuate."

Andres Bermudez, his hands still trembling in the aftermath of the attack, described "people crying in panic". "It's a miracle I'm alive," he told AFP, explaining that he had been in the mall to pay some bills. Police, ambulances and firefighters swiftly arrived at the shopping centre, popular for its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. President Santos said the mall would open normally on Sunday.

Late Saturday, clubs in the area still opened their doors to revellers, though fewer people than usual walked the streets. John Herrera said he had decided to go out to take advantage of a friend's visit. "If it already happened once, I do not think that it will happen twice in the same place," he said.

Guerrillas condemn attack

Colombia is still grappling with a civil conflict that has lasted more than half a century between guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and state forces - leaving at least 260,000 dead, 60,000 missing and 7.1 million displaced. The government is seeking a "complete peace" after reaching a peace accord last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

The ELN, with 1,500 fighters, is the last guerrilla group still active in the country, but was quick to condemn the attack. "ELN_Paz condemns this deplorable incident," the group wrote on its Twitter account, noting that the attack was "against civilians". "We share the pain and stand in solidarity with the victims," the group wrote. "The state should investigate thoroughly to identify those responsible."

The leader of the FARC, Rodrigo Londono - known as Timochenko - also denounced the explosion. "Solidarity with the victims of today in Bogota," he wrote on Twitter. "This act can only come from those who want to close the roads of peace and reconciliation." The blast was the second major attack this year in the Colombian capital. In February the ELN claimed responsibility for a bombing at a bullring in Bogota, which killed a police officer and wounded more than 20 people. - AFP