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Colombia Blast Kills 1, Injures 83 : Drug Barons Held Responsible for Attack on Paper

Times Staff Writer

In a major escalation of the already bloody war between the Colombian government and narcotics traffickers, presumed drug barons attacked one of the nation’s most important newspapers, setting off a powerful truck bomb that killed at least one person and wounded at least 83 more.

The 6:40 a.m. blast, estimated by police to have been caused by about 220 pounds of dynamite, blew out all of the windows and damaged the presses and electronic editing system of El Espectador, Colombia’s oldest daily newspaper.

The blast, which left a 10-foot deep crater, was felt 18 miles away, did extensive damage in the immediate area and broke windows in a two-mile radius.

Reporter Killed

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A part-time reporter who also served as a driver for the newspaper was killed. Most of the wounded were aboard two buses that were loading passengers across the street from the bomb site.

Mundo Vision, a network television news program, said that it had received telephone calls claiming responsibility for the blast from “the Extraditables,” a name adopted for communication with the media by a group of drug cartel leaders sought by the United States for trafficking in narcotics.

The Extraditables last month declared what they called “total war” on the government to protect an estimated $4-billion narcotics business and to prevent their extradition to the United States--hence the name.

The Extraditables have claimed responsibility for murdering several journalists as well as government, police and military officials, including Liberal Party presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, whose Aug. 18 assassination ignited Colombia’s current crackdown on the drug barons and their enterprises.

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Terrorism Moves Into Capital

The attack on El Espectador not only escalated the level of violence but moved it into the Colombian capital in a serious way. Before, most cartel-directed terrorism had taken place in the area of Medellin, a major provincial capital northwest of here in the heart of the area used by traffickers to manufacture and ship cocaine. Of 12 bombs that have been blamed on drug terrorists since the drug war escalated two weeks ago, Saturday’s was the first to explode in Bogota.

El Espectador, the nation’s second-largest daily newspaper with a circulation of about 200,000, has been a leading and determined critic of the drug cartels and has been a frequent target of the traffickers’ bloody retaliation.

In December, 1986, El Espectador’s editor and publisher, Guillermo Cano, was killed by machine-gun fire as he drove out of the paper’s parking lot. He had been leading a three-year campaign to drive the drug dealers out of the country. The Extraditables claimed responsibility for the murder.

At least three reporters for the paper have been killed by cartel gunmen, including one earlier this year. Two sons of the murdered editor, Juan Guillermo and Fernando Cano, fled to Spain after receiving death threats.

Maria Jimena Duzan, an editor and columnist for the paper, said that a threatening letter came Thursday, vowing to attack not only El Espectador, but El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest paper, and newspapers in Medellin. It was signed, she said, by Pablo Escobar, chief of the Medellin cartel and top figure on Washington’s most-wanted list of Colombian drug traffickers.

In addition to Saturday’s bombing of El Espectador, a bomb presumably placed by the drug outlaws destroyed the resort home of the Cano family on the Caribbean Island of El Rosario. No one was injured in the blast, a family spokesman said.

El Espectador has been unrelenting in its support of the government’s current drive against the drug lords and has continually demanded that they be extradited to the United States, where it is assumed they cannot use bribes and threats to avoid trial and punishment.

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$1 Million in Damage

Damage to the newspaper building and plant was estimated to be at least $1 million, but Alfonso Cano, El Espectador’s business manager, said that damaged computers and presses were repaired enough to allow publication of today’s edition.

First copies of the edition were printed late Saturday, and in a Page 1 editorial headlined “Over the Rubble,” the editors wrote:

“This edition was printed with the few machines that were left in good condition in our main office after the attack with a truck bomb against El Espectador in a war declared against Colombia by narco-traffickers. . . .

“An emergency editorial department and printing shop was built to fulfill our promises to our readers and to all that sane part of Colombia which anxiously hopes the government carries out what it has promised so that these ruins also won’t be the rubble of democracy in Colombia.”

Besides damaging the newspaper, the bomb destroyed a bank branch, a government office building, eight automobiles, a bus and several small businesses in the industrial section on the edge of downtown Bogota.

According to Bogota Police Col. Alfonso Rosas and other government authorities, two men in a 1987 Chevrolet panel truck carrying the name of a women’s undergarment manufacturing company pulled into a gasoline station across the street from the rear of the two-story El Espectador building.

They told the attendant they would go for coffee while he filled the truck’s tank. But they ran to a waiting gray Mazda sedan and drove away. Moments later, the bomb exploded. Police said it was equipped with a timing device.

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The blast, which ignited about 11,000 gallons of the service station’s fuel, left a 10-foot deep crater. All that remained of the truck was its transmission, found in the bottom of the crater, and a bumper found 50 feet away in El Espectador’s parking lot.

“The idea was to set off the gas tanks, which would then destroy the newspaper,” Col. Rosas said. “If it had gone off two hours later when the reporters and workers had come to work, it would have been a disaster.” Damage to the newspaper was so severe that it seemed at first that it would be impossible to publish today’s edition.

But the staff, called in within two hours, calmly swept away glass and metal shards from their desks and computer terminals and began working as soon as electrical power was restored.

Debris Cleaned Up

Large vacuum cleaners were used to clean debris from the presses, which were shielded from the direct force of the explosion by a wall and were not badly damaged.

But huge chunks of cement dangled from loosened steel reinforcing rods, and the scene was like that of a war-bombed building.

Orlando Vasquez, Colombia’s minister of government, said that “we deplore the deaths of innocent people who have no responsibility in what is happening in the country.”

He said that new anti-terrorist measures will be undertaken to protect this capital against further attacks.


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