Peruvian Attack Raises Fears of Rebel Resurgence
President Bush Confirms Plans to Visit Saturday
By Anthony Faiola and Lucien Chauvin
Washington Post Foreign Service
BUENOS AIRES, March 21--The lethal bomb that ripped through an upscale
shopping center across from the U.S. Embassy in Lima last night, only days
official visit by President Bush, held the telltale signs of the notorious Shining Path guerrillas and carried a deadly message that leftist terrorism may be staging a
comeback in Peru.
Though no one has claimed responsibility for the powerful package bomb
that killed nine Peruvians and injured at least 30 more, both Peruvian
and U.S. intelligence
officials today said the leading suspects are the long-dormant Shining Path. The violent Maoist guerrillas terrorized Peruvians during much of the 1980s and early
1990s, with thousands of civilians losing their lives before the insurgents were largely subdued with substantial U.S. assistance. But officials in Peru described last
night's attack as a potential wake up call to the extent of the group's re-emergence.
In Washington, President Bush brushed off security concerns and confirmed
he would keep on track with plans to land in Lima on Saturday to meet with
President Alejandro Toledo and leaders from Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador in his first official visit to South America. "No, I'm still going," Bush told reporters in the
Oval Office when questioned about his visit. "No two-bit terrorists are going to prevent me from doing what we need to do and that is promote our friendship in the
Peruvians today feared that the worse act of terrorism in Lima since
leftist rebels seized the Japanese ambassador's residence there in 1996
could herald a new string
of guerrilla violence.
Sources close to the investigation said they are not yet ruling out
other possible links to foreign terror networks – including radical Islamic
groups or the Revolutionary
Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the leftist insurgents linked to narco-traffickers in neighboring Colombia and who have threatened to begin attacking U.S.
targets. But the type of explosive used – 100 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, known commonly as ANFO--closely mimicked past attacks by the Shining
Path, as did the lack of an official claim of responsibility. Rebels or their sympathizers were also suspected in another, smaller bomb which exploded in front of a
Spanish-owned telephone company in Lima last night, though no one was injured.
"No one can be sure yet, but this has all the fingerprints of [the Shining Path]," said one U.S. official familiar with the investigation.
The package bomb placed underneath a car at the El Polo Shopping Center
in Lima's upscale Monterrico district exploded at 10:45 p.m. EST. The mall
is across the
street from the fortress-like U.S. Embassy, which is set back from the sidewalks did not sustain damage. But officials say they have no doubt the attack was an
anti-U.S. action related to Bush's upcoming visit.
The bomb ripped through upscale restaurants and shops, causing widespread
damage and hurling debris as far a 200 yards away. According to the Interior
the bomb had a long wick, which, when ignited, drew the attention of police officers and security guards who thought the car was on fire – causing at least two of
them to lose their lives.
Peruvian authorities, aided by U.S. Secret Service officials in the
area ahead of Bush's visit, struggled to contain the panicked scene last
night as loved ones searched
desperately for missing victims. The remains of mutilated bodies had been thrown as far as 20 feet away from the bomb site. Six of the nine victims have been
Windows were blown out of houses within a two block radius. Susie Carrasco,
who lives a half a block away, said "it was like an earthquake. I've never
anything like this before."
Carlos Rodriguez, 32, whose uncle was killed in the attack, stood by
on the scene last night by his uncle's car in a daze. "I'm going to wait
here until they give me my
uncle," he said, starring out at the scene. "This is too hard to accept."
Along with a smaller leftist insurgency group known as the Tupac Amaru
(MRTA), the Shining Path turned much of Peru into a war zone during the
decades, with bombs rocking Lima almost nightly.
The Shining Path often used ANFO bombs in its heyday in the late 1980s
and early 1990s. However, the group was thought to be largely defeated
in 1992, when its
founder and leader, Abimael Guzman, and most of the group's leadership were arrested. That came amid a series of U.S.-backed military offenses by the
administration of now-disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori in the early and mid-1990s.
Since then, the Shining Path has been stumbling with no apparent leader
emerging outside prison. A splinter group, known as the Red Faction, carried
attacks until 1999, when its leader, Oscar Ramirez Duran, was arrested. There were two major Shining Path attacks last year. In May, a car bomb exploded in
downtown Lima near the National Elections Board, though no one was killed. In August, four police officers were killed near the Ene River, in Peru's coca-growing
According to the U.S. State Department's annual human rights report,
the Shining Path carried out 103 attacks last year, killing 31 people.
The U.S. government
maintains the Shining Path on its list of international terrorist organization. The Peruvian government, meanwhile, estimates that there are no more than 400 Shining
Path militants in the country, operating mainly in the Upper Huallaga and Apurimac Valley, both high-jungle coca-growing areas, and in the highlands of Ayacucho,
the Andean region where the Shining Path launched its war against the government in 1980.
U.S. and Peruvian officials strongly condemned yesterday's attacks and
vowed to search out the perpetrators. Toledo, speaking from a U.N. development
Monterrey, Mexico, said "I will not permit democracy to be undermined by terrorist attacks. We will not give one centimeter. I am going to apply a hard-line policy
within the framework of the law."
Though no Americans were hurt and the the U.S. Embassy wasn't damaged,
officials say the bomb site so close to the embassy was a clear anti-U.S.
changed the tone of Bush's trip, which was supposed to focus on fortifying democracy and foreign trade. As the U.S. war on terrorism rages in Afghanistan and
elsewhere, the bombing in Peru immediately brought to the forefront the question on how deeply Washington is prepared to involve itself in the growing threat of
terrorism in Latin America.
The United States is weighing whether to expand military aid to Colombia,
where a four-decade-long guerrilla war waged by fighters dubbed "terrorists"
government in Bogota is spilling into neighboring Ecuador and Brazil. Bolivia is facing a surge in violent conflict with organized peasant farmers, Indian groups and
small farmers who cultivate the leaf used to make cocaine. There are fears in economically devastated Argentina that left-wing groups of the poor and unemployed
are organizing into an armed opposition with guidance from Colombian rebels.
"This certainly moves the topic of regional terrorism to the top of
the agenda," said a U.S. official in Latin America who asked not to be
named. "The neighborhood is
getting rougher. It's in our interest to help as much as we can."