The National Liberation Army (ELN), a Marxist terrorist organization, has taken responsibility for the bombing of a police station in Barranquilla, Colombia, this weekend, killing five officers and wounding 41 others.
The bombing follows months of attempts by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos to bring the ELN to the negotiating table for peace talks. It precedes the launch of a full-scale presidential campaign by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest Marxist terrorist organization in the country.
Santos brokered a “peace deal” with the FARC that allows the terrorist organization to organize politically and launch presidential and congressional candidates in the 2018 race. Terror chief Rodrigo Londoño, known by his nom de guerre “Timochenko,” will run for the presidency of Colombia on the FARC ticket.
Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for the deal and has since attempted to negotiate a similar deal with the ELN.
In a message posted on its official Twitter account, the ELN took responsibility for the attack and claimed it as a “response” to the government for “refusing to answer to the needs of the people, invent[ing] excuses to not guarantee their rights, and us[ing] public force to repress the people who are tired of putting up with this and fighting for their survival and dignity.”
The message particularly condemns “the punishment of the consumer of psychoactive substances, while alliances with drug trafficking mafias continue to exist on the small and large scale.” According to the monitor group InsightCrime, the ELN “has recently been linked to the narcotics trade and has sought alliances with large drug trafficking organizations.”
While Twitter’s official terms of service ban the use of the medium for “threatening or promoting terrorism”—and ban affiliation with “organizations that … use or promote violence against civilians to further their causes,” the official ELN Twitter account is still live at press time.
Cristian Camilo Bellón was arrested in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Saturday, according to police the only suspect in the attack. The ELN statement did not indicate that anyone else was involved in the attack. Prosecutors say Bellón planted a bomb at the police station to specifically target officers. He faces charges of aggravated homicide, attempted homicide, aggravated terrorism, and use of explosive materials, according to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo.
Santos issued a statement of condolence for the attack on Twitter, writing, “We will not rest until we find all those responsible. My solidarity with the relatives of the victims and those injured.”
El Tiempo notes that Santos had recently sent an envoy to Quito, Ecuador, to rekindle peace talks with the ELN. Santos scheduled a meeting with his chief ELN negotiator following the attack. The Barranquilla bombing is the second of three such attacks in two weeks, the third occurring on Monday in Santa Rosa.
Talks between the government and the ELN ended on January 10 without any results. Santos called for a second round in the hope of brokering a peace deal, again introducing as state guarantors a gallery of rogue states including Cuba and Venezuela. The leftist governments of Brazil, Chile, and Ecuador have also involved themselves in the talks.
Opposition politicians have called for an immediate end to the pursuit of these peace talks, instead calling for them to be replaced with a plan for eradicating the terrorist group entirely, not incorporating them into the political fabric of Colombia.
“Once they prove that the ELN is behind this attack, I think there is no more room to continue at the negotiating table,” Efraín Cepeda Sarabia, the president of the Colombian Congress, said in response to the attack.
Iván Duque, a conservative candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, issued a statement condemning further peace talks. “There is nothing to negotiate with those who only believe in terrorism and do not respect human dignity,” Duque wrote. “The government should immediately cease this comedy of a dialogue in Ecuador.”
The ELN’s resurgence has renewed concern in Colombia over the normalization of terrorist organizations that has occurred under Santos. The nation’s largest terrorist group, the FARC, has rebranded as a Marxist political party and begun campaigning for congressional candidates and for its presidential nominee, “Timochenko.” Timochenko officially launched his presidential campaign on Saturday, with the ELN bombing as national backdrop.
Timochenko condemned the ELN attack.
Democratic Center (CD), Duque’s party, announced this week that it would attempt to bring charges against Timochenko to the International Criminal Court, in an attempt to thwart his presidential run. A representative of the party called the candidacy an “affront” to the electoral process given what are widely believed to be exorbitant profits that the FARC receives from drug trafficking, kidnapping ransoms, and looting of rural villages.