Car Bomb Kills 9 Near U.S. Embassy in Lima
LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - A powerful car bomb killed nine people and injured
30 near the U.S. Embassy in Lima, but President Bush vowed
on Thursday that no ``two-bit terrorists'' would halt his weekend visit to Peru.
Wednesday night's blast sent shivers through many Peruvians who recalled
scenes of terror and carnage during the country's years of leftist
rebel violence in the 1980s and 1990s.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing but U.S. intelligence
agencies suspect Shining Path, a Maoist rebel group that was
once one of Latin America's bloodiest and is still listed as a ``terrorist'' organization by Washington.
``It's not definitive, but the signs point in that direction,'' said one intelligence official in Washington.
Peru said it was ruling nothing out and swiftly announced a security
clampdown, putting police on ``red alert'' and sealing off a historic center
usually clogged with honking minibuses and street vendors, ahead of Bush's arrival on Saturday.
Two policemen and a teen-ager in roller-skates were among those killed
when the bomb packed with up to 110 pounds of dynamite
exploded across an avenue from the fortress-like embassy around 10:45 p.m. EST Wednesday.
On Thursday, light armored vehicles surrounded the main square outside
the presidential palace, where Bush will spend most of his 17-hour
visit. Police checked identity cards.
Officers leaning on riot shields closed access to the square and some areas were cordoned off with yellow tape.
Bush, who has led a global war on terror in the wake of the Sept. 11
attacks on the United States, said nothing would derail his first trip
South America, the first to Peru by a sitting U.S. president.
``No two-bit terrorists are going to prevent me from doing what we need
to do, and that is to promote our friendship in the hemisphere,'' he
said at the White House. ``You bet I'm going.''
Bush flies to Lima from a U.N. development summit in Monterrey, Mexico and from Lima goes to El Salvador on Sunday.
The U.S. Embassy was open as usual but some Peruvians were edgy. ``I
believe that terrorism is afoot again. There are going to be more
attacks if the government doesn't ... crack down,'' said 74-year-old pensioner Gabriel Vasquez.
TOLEDO PROMISES 'IRON FIST'
``This is clearly an attempt not only to abort the visit of President
Bush, but to destabilize democracy, and we cannot permit this,'' Prime
Minister Roberto Danino told CPN radio.
President Alejandro Toledo, who was flying home from the Monterrey summit, said Peru would not be cowed.
``Peru, my government and the brave Peruvian people will not allow terrorism
to resurface,'' he said. ``We will use an iron fist in one hand,
and in the other, the law.''
The European Union slammed the ``savage terrorist attack.''
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, ousted in a corruption scandal
in 2000, was widely praised for crushing parallel insurgencies by
the Shining Path and the smaller, Marxist, Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.
The guerrilla wars, aimed at establishing a communist state in Peru, cost 30,000 lives and caused $25 billion in damages.
Although both rebel movements have been largely dormant for nearly a
decade, Peru said late last year it had foiled a attack on the U.S.
Embassy by Shining Path, whom officials say works closely with drug traffickers in this Andean nation, which is the world's No. 2 cocaine
producer after Colombia.
Shining Path remains on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations, although
the MRTA -- best remembered for a 1996-97 hostage siege in Lima
-- has been removed.
Lima says there is ``no evidence'' to support recent reports the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a Marxist group that is
the main rebel force in Peru's northern neighbor, has been entering Peru and cultivating contacts with Shining Path. Nevertheless, police have
stepped up counter-insurgency efforts, including opening new bases in isolated areas.
Some analysts said the blast could be the work of groups linked to Fujimori
and his jailed former spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, who is
accused of hounding political opponents and rigging elections during his 1990-2000 rule, since they would have the most to gain from
``There could have been a combination of (parties responsible). The
international terrorism situation is so complex right now that we can't
rule anything out,'' Interior Minister Fernando Rospigliosi told RPP radio.
LIMA BRACES FOR STRICT SECURITY
Before the attack, officials said Bush would be staying in a plush oceanside
hotel a few miles from the embassy. Security was tightened
around the hotel, across the road from one of Peru's swankiest shopping centers.
In Lima, Bush will meet his counterparts from Peru, Colombia, Bolivia
and the vice president of Ecuador. Colombia's war on leftist rebels
and far-right paramilitaries, the fight against illegal drugs and regional trade are on the agenda.
Even before the bomb, Peru had been planning to deploy 7,000 police
to guard the capital during Bush's visit. Officials said flights over Lima
would be banned for the duration and any unauthorized air traffic shot down.
Bodies covered by orange plastic sheets were removed from the mess of
broken glass, mangled metal and crushed masonry that covered the
sidewalk outside what had once been a bank.
Leftist groups called off planned protests during Bush's visit. But
a few signs were daubed on walls saying: ``Bush -- go away,'' ``Yankee
home'' and ``You won't make it to Peru alive.''