In an address to the nation Thursday night, hours after a powerful car bomb caused widespread destruction to the country’s largest police academy Escuela de Cadetes General Santander in Bogotá, President Iván Duque urged Colombians to “stand united” against terrorism.
“This infamous attack in an educational center against young students claimed the lives of first-year cadets and left other young people wounded as they prepared to become policemen of the nation,” remarked Duque, as the death toll from the car bomb filled with 80 kg of pentolite stood at 10 with dozens severely injured in three Bogotá hospitals. “This is an attack against our youth, our freedoms, against all Colombians.”
A terror attack not seen in the Colombian capital since a rash of car bombs orchestrated by the Medellín cartel’s Pablo Escobar more than two decades ago, and a tragedy that recalled the loss of life when 36 people died at El Nogal on February 7, 2003, when the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla detonated a car bomb inside the club’s parking lot, President Duque assured all Colombians that “this despicable act will not go unpunished.”
As a trail of tears extends across all the departments of this country with the deaths of young cadets, many of whom had recently enrolled in the prestigious academy, including several from Panama and Ecuador, Duque declared 3 days of state mourning and the Colombian flag to fly at half mast. “The whole country accompanies their families, their loved ones in these moments of pain,” said Duque.
The President also announced the tightening of border controls and security check-points at the entrances and exits of all cities. Duque also urged Colombians to provide information to identify the authors of the attack. “Colombia will show you that this is a strong, united nation that does not break before the dementia of these aggressions.”
Moments after a grey Nissan Patrol broke through the Academy’s visitor’s entrance and detonated inside the compound, President Duque returned to the Colombian capital from Quibdó, Choco, where he was presiding over a security council. “Immediately after the attack, all the response protocols were activated, we visited the Cadet School and went around the scene where I told 900 students of the school […] that today we shed tears for these heroes, but that we will honor their memory by building a stronger Colombia.”
The vehicle driven by 57-year-old José Aldemar Rojas Rodríguez had recently passed a technical revision test in the department of Arauca and cameras at toll booths were able to track the movements of the attacker from Colombia’s Eastern plains to Bogotá, and moment when he reaches the police academy.
According to Colombia’s Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martínez, José Aldemar Rojas was a member of the National Liberation Army guerrilla (ELN) and went by the alias “Mocho Kico.” Rojas, who was born in Puerto Boyacá was an explosives expert and died in the explosion.
“We will not rest until we capture and bring to justice the rest of the terrorists involved and I notify those criminals that social repudiation awaits them, the rejection of all Colombians and the international community, and the exemplary punishment of justice,” concluded Duque after a day in which the 42-year old president faced his first major security crisis since taking office on August 7, 2018.