BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The suspect in a car bombing that left 21 people dead on Thursday in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, was a member of the largest guerrilla group remaining in the country, the Colombian government said Friday.
José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez, the suspect who was also killed that day, was part of the National Liberation Army, a Marxist rebel group known as the ELN, said Guillermo Botero, the Colombian defense minister.
The ELN did not claim responsibility, but it has increased attacks against the government since its rival guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC, signed a peace deal with the government in 2016.
The attack on Thursday, near a police academy, was the first car bombing in Bogotá in years, a gruesome reminder of an era when such attacks were the norm, as drug lords and rebel groups waged aggressive terror campaigns, killing hundreds of civilians and security forces. Since the signing of the peace accords, the Colombian government has said it turned the page on that violent era.
Scenes of the carnage near the academy told a different story. Cellphone videos shared with The New York Times on Friday and filmed by someone who was at the scene showed a burning vehicle with a dismembered torso in blue pants sprawled in front of the flames. The camera also captured images of a human foot and what appeared to be a severed head.
Rescue workers struggled to carry possible survivors out on stretchers.
The attack against security forces in Colombia’s center of power was an escalation of hostilities with the ELN, which in the past year has bombed police stations, attacked oil pipelines and kidnapped soldiers, policemen and military contractors.
In a speech on Friday night, President Iván Duque of Colombia announced that Colombian authorities had reactivated arrest warrants for members of the ELN leadership and had asked Cuba, where 10 members are based, to extradite them.
“The ELN is and has been a criminal machine of kidnappings and attacks,” he said. “We have had enough of death.”
Even before the attack, Mr. Duque, whose right-wing Democratic Center party campaigned against the peace deal with the FARC, expressed little enthusiasm for negotiating with the ELN.
“If the ELN really wants peace,” he said on Friday, “they need to show the country concrete actions, like the immediate return of all kidnapped people and the end of all criminal actions.”
Mr. Botero, the defense minister, said the attacker, Mr. Rojas, had joined the ELN in the 1990s and worked as an explosives instructor. He lost a hand at one point in an explosion and thereafter was known by the nickname “Mocho,” slang in Colombia for someone who is missing a hand or arm.
In 2015, as the FARC was nearing its peace deal with the government, Mr. Rojas had tried three times to pass himself off as a member of that group to receive demobilization benefits, but FARC members rejected him repeatedly, said Mr. Botero, the defense minister.
The FARC, which has given up arms and formed a political party, worked to distance itself from the attack this week.
“We express our solidarity with the victims and their families,” the party wrote in a statement after the attack. “And we call on all sectors of the country to keep building a pact that takes violence and weapons out of doing politics.”
But the ELN has taken a different stance from their former guerrilla brethren.
Last January, a faction of the group claimed responsibility for an attack that killed five police officers and wounded 40 others in a Colombian port city. During the summer, they tried to coax the government into negotiations by offering nine hostages for ransom. The kidnappings continued even this month, when the group said it had downed a civilian helicopter and taken three more hostages.
Jeremy McDermott, the co-founder of Insight Crime, a foundation that tracks criminal groups, said the group’s fractured command structure meant that some factions kept fighting the government even while others may express interest in a peace deal.
“The ELN isn’t a vertically integrated organization,” he said.
His foundation is also tracking another problem for the government: Former rebels of the FARC who have taken up arms once again. Last fall, Insight Crime estimated that as many as 2,800 fighters may have returned to arms — about 40 percent of the number that fought before the peace deal.
Jairo Libreros, a professor at Externado University in Bogotá who also works as a security analyst, said he saw little option for the government other than to continue fighting guerrilla groups like the rogue FARC fighters and ELN.
“The ELN is still anchored in ideologies from the last century,” he said, referring to its vows to continue Marxist struggle. “But this attack closes any window there was for negotiation in the short term.”
Orignially published in NYT.