May 15, 2012 / 9:38 PM / 7 years ago

Bomb targeting former Colombian minister kills two

BOGOTA (Reuters) - In a rare attack in Colombia’s capital, a bomb targeting a former interior minister tore through his car near the city’s financial district on Tuesday, killing the driver and a police escort.

Police officers, who are explosives experts, stand at the cordoned scene of an explosion in a central avenue in Bogota May 15, 2012. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

The Andean country has battled left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and drug lords for decades, but a campaign against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the demobilization of paramilitaries fighting them has reduced violence in recent years.

President Juan Manuel Santos condemned the car bombing, which he said had targeted former Interior Minister Fernando Londono, who was in a Bogota hospital being treated for his wounds but out of danger, according to local media.

“This government will not be thrown off course by these terrorist attacks. We will stay the course and carry out all the investigations needed to find the culprits,” Santos said.

Soon after the blast, local television showed images of Londono walking from the scene of the attack with blood covering his face, flanked by an armed bodyguard.

Santos said both the victims were accompanying the former minister as part of a state protection program that is commonly provided in Colombia to well-known political figures, judges and union leaders.

Londono served as interior minister from 2002 to 2004 in the government of former President Alvaro Uribe, who led a crackdown on the FARC Marxist guerrillas and other armed groups during his eight years in office.

He has since taken up journalism, hosting a radio show and writing opinion pieces for local newspapers.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing and Santos did not say who he thought was behind it.

A police source told Reuters two people on a motorbike attached an explosive device to the car carrying Londono shortly before the explosion shook a commercial part of the capital close to the financial district.

More than 20 people needed hospital treatment for injuries sustained in the blast.

Although substantially weakened by a U.S.-funded military crackdown, the FARC remains a force to be reckoned with, especially in remote rural areas.

Its members often stage attacks against police and military installations, set off car bombs in areas already ravaged by drug violence and cause mayhem in remote jungle regions.

However, illegal armed groups have seldom carried out attacks in the Colombian capital in recent years.

The last bomb attack attributed to the FARC in Bogota occurred in August 2010, shortly after Santos took office. There have been several small bombings since then, for which no particular group was blamed.

An injured man lies on the road after an explosion in a central avenue in Bogota May 15, 2012. REUTERS/Fredy Builes

Like the FARC, illegal armed groups known locally as “bacrims” - from the Spanish words for criminal bands - are also involved in drug trafficking but they are not known to carry out attacks on political targets.

Colombia has attracted billions of dollars in oil and mining investments over the last five years, thanks largely to better security, and this has driven petroleum and coal production to record levels.

The bombing put further pressure on the Colombian peso, which weakened 1.01 percent against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday - mainly due to fears Greece may exit the euro zone, currency traders said.

Writing by Eduardo Garcia and Helen Popper; Editing by Eric Walsh

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