Rebels' Bomb Try Thwarted, U.S. Says

Rebels' Bomb Try Thwarted, U.S. Says
Posted by FoM on January 09, 2001 at 19:42:08 PT
By Juan O. Tamayo
Source: Miami Herald 
With President Clinton's whirlwind visit to the city of Cartagena fast approaching, Colombian and U.S. security officials last August worked frantically to prevent Colombia's largest and most feared leftist guerrilla group from placing explosives near Clinton's path.The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, came close in its attempt, according to reports confirmed recently by U.S. officials. 
But intercepts of cellular phone calls between a FARC commander and rebels inside Cartagena allowed security forces to thwart the bombers.Four rebels were captured as they assembled a bomb just three hours before Clinton arrived Aug. 30. Four sticks of dynamite and a half-dozen grenades were found the previous day near a government agency Clinton visited. U.S. Justice Department officials later asked for transcripts of the phone calls with a view to filing charges of plotting an attempt on the life of a federal official. But they dropped the case after concluding there was no proof of intent to harm Clinton, U.S. officials said.``The attempts were aimed at structures around Clinton, not him,'' said Col. Germán Jaramillo, head of Colombia's secret police. ``But any little pop would have been a disaster.''That's what the FARC was after. ``We want to rain on his party,'' bombing plot chief Gustavo Rueda, who uses the nom de guerre of Martín Caballero, was heard telling one of his men in Cartagena in a phone call.Forty-five days earlier, Clinton had announced he would visit Colombia to figuratively hand over $1.3 billion in U.S. aid for President Andrés Pastrana's offensive on drug traffickers. The 20,000-member FARC immediately condemned the visit, saying that the U.S. assistance showed ``imperialist'' meddling in Colombian affairs.The Caribbean resort city chosen for Clinton's visit was regarded as one of the safest areas in the country. Security officials took no chances. Some 4,700 Colombian soldiers and police plus 200 agents from the U.S. Secret Service, FBI and DEA maintained three concentric rings around Clinton throughout the visit.``We were monitoring every single cellular and beeper call made in Cartagena for weeks before the visit,'' said a Colombian intelligence official who played a major role in the security arrangements.Washington sent in surveillance helicopters while the Colombian navy and air force deployed three frigates, two submarines and a fleet of small boats. The FARC, meanwhile, ordered Rueda, a 38-year-old doctor and veteran guerrilla who, at the time, commanded its 37th Front, to disrupt the visit.At 1 p.m. the day before Clinton's visit the Colombian Navy began intercepting calls from Rueda in the nearby countryside to two FARC cells inside the city.Made on cellular phones with prepaid cards so their owners could not be identified, the calls spoke of a FARC attempt to detonate several small explosive devices near Clinton on the day of his visit.Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá confirmed that Colombian authorities notified them of the plot and the efforts to stop it. As part of routine procedures, they considered canceling the visit, but concluded that security was tight enough.At the same time, Colombian security forces launched a frenzied search in Cartagena for the guerrillas and their explosives, according to the weekly Cambio and Semana magazines, which first reported the FARC plot.``Everything they reported was true,'' Jaramillo said in an interview. ``The president was never in any danger.''Colombian security officials say the 50 hours of phone conversations they recorded show the two FARC cells tried to put at least four explosive devices, and perhaps, six in and near the walled Old City of Cartagena.``We are working in four parts. Two inside and two outside the Old City,'' one guerrilla reported to Rueda in a transcript published by Semana. Rueda's reply: ``Try to drive them crazy.''Police first found a hoax bomb on the afternoon of Aug. 29 beside a fruit stand in the open-air Bazurto Market inside the Old City.Two hours later, police seized four dynamite sticks and six hand grenades and arrested three FARC members five blocks from a government agency that Clinton would visit the following day, Colombian security officials said.That was the only explosive device publicly announced during Clinton's visit. Police described it as a ``propaganda bomb'' designed to scatter FARC leaflets and it received little attention.At 2 a.m. on Aug. 30, police arrested a FARC member after the accidental explosion of a detonating cap as he built a third bomb in a poor suburb, security officials said. The suspect lost a hand in the blast.Colombian security officials said they then began scouring the city looking for the fourth device, questioning scores of suspected FARC sympathizers and launching almost house-by-house searches.But it wasn't until 7 a.m., just three hours before Air Force One landed in Cartagena, that an elite police commando unit located the fourth device.Alerted by neighbors' report of suspicious men, they burst into an apartment in the upscale Bocagrande neighborhood and found four men in their underwear building a bomb, the officials said.The explosives were to have been placed under a bridge that Clinton's motorcade passed on the way from the airport, according to the report in Cambio.Clinton's whirlwind trip went off without a hitch -- at least none that became public at the time. The next day, when a journalist chatting with a U.S. security agent noted that the visit had gone well, the official smiled and said: ``What you saw went OK. What you didn't see was even better.''Note: Colombian group wanted explosives in Clinton's path.Source: Miami Herald (FL)Author: Juan O. TamayoPublished: January 8, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Miami HeraldAddress: One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693Fax: (305) 376-8950Contact: heralded herald.comWebsite: Articles:Colombia Peace Talks Mark 2nd Year With Little Change Pledges To Keep U.S. Out of Colombia War Articles - Plan Colombia 
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