Explosions Rattle Colombia and Ecuador

Terrorist groups’ attacks leave seven dead and more than 70 wounded.
Yolima Dussán/Diálogo | 6 February 2018

Transnational Threats

A car bomb exploded on January 27, 2018, in a terrorist attack against a police station in San Lorenzo, Ecuador. (Photo: Carlos Arias, AFP)

Colombia and Ecuador are on high alert after a recent wave of bombings killed and injured several people. The attacks set off alarms in the armed forces of both nations, which stepped up cooperation efforts to stop the terrorist onslaught.

The series of attacks—four in all—happened in various locations: three in northern Colombia and one in Ecuador, near the Colombian border. All took place between January 27 and 28, 2018, within hours of each other, and targeted members of the police in both countries. The trail of dead and wounded attested to the resurgence of terrorism as a weapon for illegal groups to achieve their objectives and destabilize society.

Explosion at shift change

On the morning of January 27th, in the San José district of southern Barranquilla, Colombia, a bomb exploded as police officers lined up in formation for a shift change. The device, detonated remotely, was hidden behind a chair along a wall of the building. The blast caused five deaths.

“We vehemently condemn this act and soon we will find its perpetrators,” General Jorge Hernando Nieto, commander of the Colombian National Police (PNC, in Spanish), said at a press conference. “We all stand in solidarity with the families of our five dead police officers, and with the more than 40 officers who were injured.”

Minutes after the explosion, PNC captured a suspect in the vicinity. Cristian Camilo Ballón Galindo possessed information that linked him to the National Liberation Army (ELN, in Spanish). The guerrilla group and Colombia had initiated peace talks in 2017.

Near midnight on that same day, a device exploded at the police station of the municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, in the department of Bolívar in southern Colombia. The blast killed two police officers and wounded another.

On January 28th, in the Soledad 2000 neighborhood, also in Barranquilla, a car bomb exploded outside the Emergency Response Center, injuring seven patrol agents. In all, seven police officers died over the weekend.

ELN, author of the attack

In the evening of January 28th, the ELN’s National Urban War Front claimed responsibility for the attacks. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos suspended the fifth series of peace negotiations with the ELN. The process faced serious ups and downs amid the terrorist attacks the guerrilla group perpetrated against civilians, members of the armed forces, and the country’s road, oil, and energy infrastructure.

A man walks by the police station in the San José district of Barranquilla, Colombia, after a terrorist attack left five police officers dead and injured 41 when a bomb exploded on January 28, 2018. (Photo: José Torres, AFP)

Terrorism in Ecuador

The wave of terrorism spread to Ecuador. A car bomb exploded on January 27th, destroying Ecuador's National Police (PNE, in Spanish) station in San Lorenzo, in the province of Esmeraldas, a town that borders Colombia. The attack injured 28 people and caused damage to 204 surrounding homes. The explosion had a 50-meter shock wave.

It was the first terrorist attack of its kind in Ecuador. Within minutes of the tragedy, Ecuadorean authorities linked the attack to former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, in Spanish).

“Those responsible are dissident members of FARC who acted in retaliation for recent operations that led to drug seizures and the arrest of several of its members,” Ecuadorean Minister of Defense Patricio Zambrano said in a press release. “What they seek is to terrorize the population.”

Colombian Attorney General Néstor Humberto Martínez—who was in Quito, Ecuador, to participate in an international conference on civil asset forfeiture—concurred with the Ecuadorean government. “This event is associated with a binational struggle against criminal organizations—in this case, against a FARC dissident of Ecuadorean origin, known as ‘Guacho,’ who uses our friendly border to try to gain impunity in Colombia for the crimes he commits in Tumaco and in the entire southern part of Nariño.” Authorities linked “Guacho’s” criminal operations to a gang of 50 men.

Ecuador is considered a transit country for cocaine produced in Colombia. According to the Office of the Attorney General of Colombia, FARC acquired goods and assets in Ecuador representing rural and city property valued at $15 million.

After the attack on the San Lorenzo police station, specialists from PNE, PNC, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation joined forces to conduct the investigation. “Military and police forces will be much more relentless in pursuing and fighting ELN,” announced Colombia’s Minister of Defense Luis Carlos Villegas.

Ongoing terrorist acts

On April 6, 2017, ELN killed nine police officers and service members in the department of Arauca, Colombia. According to the Colombian National Army, the terrorist organization then abducted 10 people. Explosives also blasted two sections of the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline installed in the rural area of Arauca and Norte de Santander. An attack on oil installations in the town of Carmen, in the northeastern Catatumbo region of Colombia, leaked oil into the river that supplies the municipal aqueduct, and contaminated water for human consumption.

ELN committed 21 terrorist acts during the recess from peace talks with Colombia held in Quito in May 2017. Its main targets were oil infrastructure and members of the public security forces. According to Ecopetrol, a Colombian petroleum company, 44 attacks on oil infrastructure were recorded in 2017.

Within the framework of the Quito negotiations, the bilateral ceasefire agreed to with the insurgent group ended on January 9, 2018. Since then, violent actions have intensified.

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