Colombia’s National Police and Prosecutor General’s Office said Tuesday that a terrorist attack in Bogota on Saturday is related to “other incidents in Bogota and elsewhere in the country.”
What this implies is unclear as it could refer to previous bomb attacks carried out by corrupt elements within the military, paramilitary and guerrilla attacks that have occurred over the past few days, the spreading of fake bomb alerts and debunked conspiracy theories that emerged shortly after the Bogota bombing, and criminal resistance against the country’s new strategy to target drug trafficking.
However, the objective of the terrorist attack seemed to either be the undermining of authority or the interfering in an ongoing peace process to end more than half a century years of war.
The blast in the Andino shopping mall killed at least two Colombian citizens and one French citizen the afternoon before Father’s Day and sent a shock wave through the country that is in the middle of a peace process with the country’s oldest guerrilla group, the FARC.
What the authorities say
Early Tuesday, La FM Radio released sketches of two males who were later confirmed to be related to the investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Police.
According to news website Pulzo, the two men look similar to the verbal descriptions in a leaked police reports describing witness accounts who saw both the men come out of the bathroom at different times, one of them allegedly a non-Spanish speaker with “like a Portuguese accent.” The veracity of this report was not confirmed by authorities.
The police chief and chief prosecutor did stress that “to date there exists no coincidence about [the men in the sketches] between the circumstantial witnesses,” meaning they would be persons of interests, rather than confirmed suspects.
Surrounded by the entire military command, Santos announced on Sunday that the police and the prosecution were investigating three hypotheses. The president did not reveal the content of these hypotheses “not to obstruct the investigation.”
According to the authorities, the Andino mall where the attack took place has some 250 security cameras that on Tuesday were still being examined.
Who did it?
Colombia’s national authorities have so far refused to indicate suspects.
Anonymous sources have told Colombian media that the primary suspects of the attack are Marxist guerrilla group ELN, paramilitary group AGC, dissident FARC guerrillas and a Bogota-based Marxist group called the People’s Revolutionary Movement (MRP).
Three independent anonymous sources have told Colombia Reports not to discard the possibility of a dissident element within the Colombian military.
The ELN and the MRP publicly rejected the attack. The AGC has been unresponsive for weeks. The central command of the security forces has expressed its full support for the president and would not represent a possible dissident element within the institution.
The allegedly linked disinformation offensive
Saturday’s apparent “spoiler” attack was succeeded by numerous fake alerts and conspiracy theories spread on social media platforms about a series of bomb attacks that never take place, effectively amplifying the public anxiety that followed the Bogota attack.
More liberal news media like Semana and El Tiempo, subsequently debunked the claims.
Onother conspiracy theory was seemingly fabricated by Colonel John Marulanda (r), who was sacked from the military in the year 2000, reportedly on charges of drug trafficking and other crimes, a member of the association of retired officials Acore.
In spite of his reported ties to criminal activity, Marulanda has been featured as a “security expert” on US Network CNN en Español and conservative newspaper Washington Times.
The controversial former colonel’s conspiracy theory was subsequently published on the websites of El Colombiano of former Antioquia governor Juan Gomez (Conservative Party), and the Panampost of Bogota fringe politician Daniel Raisbeck (Libertarian Movement).
Influential journalist Herbin Hoyos of Caracol Radio subsequently retweeted the fabricated story, which was later debunked by conservative television network RCN.
Political parties refrain from agitation
While extremist pundits and radicalized followers of Colombia’s polarized politicians used social media to further polarize Colombia’s divided political camps, the country’s political leaders maintained relative moderation.
Before the Bogota bombing, the situation in the country was already exceptionally delicate because of an ongoing, but controversial peace process with the FARC and elections planned for next year.
The bombing and the apparent criminal campaign to undermine the peace process brought the country close to a boil.
None of the country’s political leaders on both the left and the right seemed keen to further agitate the social tensions.