Bus Set Afire in Colombia; Rebel Group Suspected

Special to The Times

Suspected rebel militia members incinerated a bus along a congested Bogota thoroughfare Tuesday and left gasoline bombs in three other transit vehicles in the latest outbreak of terrorism to grip Colombia’s city streets.

No injuries were reported in the attacks, which involved flammable substances brought on board the vehicles in a soda bottle and snack packages. About 40 commuters riding the bus that caught fire were able to scramble to safety before it was engulfed in flames about 11:15 a.m., police said.

Even as emergency crews rushed to the scene in Bogota’s wealthy northern sector, explosives experts responded to reports of three more crude bombs left in buses south of there. All the bombs were found in buses belonging to Bogota’s new TransMillennium transit system.

Authorities immediately cast suspicion on the country’s largest and most hostile guerrilla group, the 18,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which is locked in an escalating war against the state.


“Considering the modus operandi, there’s always the option that it was the FARC,” police Col. Marco Antonio Pedreros told reporters at the scene of the burning bus, where the vehicle’s blackened frame obstructed traffic.

Gen. Jorge Daniel Castro, head of Bogota’s metropolitan police, said his officers had arrested a suspect, whom a spokeswoman identified as a medical student at National University.

“These people used a system that would fool anyone,” Castro told reporters. “It was an incendiary bomb disguised in a 2-liter bottle of soda, and there was also a bag of potato chips [filled with] gun powder, which would light quickly.”

Castro said he has issued orders to prohibit food on TransMillennium buses in the future.


The FARC has stormed outposts in impoverished backwoods for decades, but the guerrillas recently opened a new chapter in Colombia’s civil conflict by designating urban centers as military targets. The shift comes amid a stepped-up military campaign by President Alvaro Uribe aimed at crushing rebel intransigence and disrupting cocaine shipments, which help fuel the war.

By hitting the TransMillennium system, Tuesday’s attackers were targeting a symbol of urban progress, a much-praised grid of bus routes that has helped to open Bogota’s clogged highways.

The attacks came slightly more than a month after the bombing of Bogota’s El Nogal social club, which killed 36 people and was also blamed on the FARC. A huge Colombian flag hangs over the facade of the burned-out club, hiding what has become to many city dwellers a symbol of their vulnerability. In a communique posted Monday on its Web site, the FARC denied responsibility for the El Nogal bombing.

Vice President Francisco Santos rejected the denial, saying the government was “completely certain” of the group’s involvement.