LATIN AMERICA

Assassin targets former Colombian minister with magnetic car bomb

Police unaware of who is behind the attack that left two dead and 54 injured

Fernando Londoño is led to an ambulance after Tuesday's explosion. / FREDY BULES (REUTERS)

Authorities on Wednesday continued to comb the Colombian capital in search of the perpetrator behind a deadly bomb attack the day before on a busy avenue, which is thought to have been an assassination attempt on former government minister Fernando Londoño. Tuesday's blast killed two of Londoño's bodyguards and left at least 54 other people seriously injured.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Londoño's vehicle. Police initially blamed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for ordering the former minister's assassination.

Londoño, who served as interior and justice minister under the previous conservative government of Álvaro Uribe, was slightly injured. With cuts on his face and his suit torn in various places, Londoño was escorted out of his bullet-proof vehicle toward an ambulance. "I am fine. The deepest wound I have I carry in my soul," Londoño told journalists afterwards.

President Juan Manuel Santos quickly condemned the attack and offered a 500-million-peso ($282,230) reward for information on the perpetrators. "We don't know who is behind this," Santos said after an emergency meeting with city and national security officials.

Bogota police say a street surveillance video shows that a person on a motorcycle who was posing as a street vendor placed a box with a magnet on the left side of Londoño's vehicle. When the bodyguard tried to remove it, the device went off, killing him and the driver instantly.

It was a person who acted very calmly, which tells us he is a professional killer"

According to the Bogota daily El Tiempo, Londoño said he was texting his wife when he felt the jolt. The newspaper added that after the explosion, the dark-skinned man ran and jumped into a taxi a block away.

"It was a person who walked and acted very calmly, which tells us he is a professional killer," said Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro.

The attack, the worst in the Colombian capital in 10 years, came just hours after police discovered and detonated a bomb in the south of the city.

It wasn't immediately clear what the motives were behind these latest incidents. Both came on the day that the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States went into effect. The government had also announced over the weekend that prosecutors were prepared to issue at least 50 arrest warrants for current and former politicians who are suspected of having links to paramilitary forces.

Londoño, a journalist who now manages one of the capital's leading radio stations, writes a column for El Tiempo in which he has been very critical of the FARC as well as Santos' government. He has also vigorously defended Uribe's past administration and certain military sectors.

"The objective of the attack was not only to kill the former minister but also definitively break any chance for reconciliation," said Petro, the Bogota mayor.

Security in Bogota remained tight as police and the military continued searching for the suspect.

Besides the more than 50 injured, the blast destroyed more than a dozen homes, 15 businesses and 10 vehicles.

Authorities say they are still investigating several theories, including the manner in which the bomb was placed. "We have different hypotheses we are considering to see if we can determine if there is a certain modus operandi," said Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre.

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