Explosion in Colombia mall kills at least 3, wounds 9

By Reuters/Helen Murphy and Nelson Bocanegra   June 18, 2017 | 11:05 am GMT+7
Explosion in Colombia mall kills at least 3, wounds 9
A police officer stands guard at an cordoned off area at the Andino shopping mall after an explosive device detonated in a restroom, in Bogota, Colombia June 17, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga

The mall was packed with people buying gifts for Father's Day when the explosion occured.

At least three women were killed and nine wounded after an explosive device detonated in a restroom in a busy upscale shopping mall in Colombia's capital on Saturday, officials said.

The Andino shopping mall in an exclusive area of Bogota was evacuated after the blast, which occurred around 5 p.m. local time (2200 GMT) in the women's toilet. The commercial center was packed with people buying gifts ahead of Father's Day celebrations on Sunday.

Police said the device was placed in a toilet bowl in the second-floor restroom. Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa denounced the attack.

"This cowardly terrorist attack in Andino really hurts me," he said on Twitter.

One of the victims was a 23-year-old French woman who had been volunteering in a poor area of the city, Penalosa told reporters.

Streets surrounding the mall were closed and buildings evacuated by police as ambulances raced to the scene and security officials tried to establish who was responsible for the blast. Bomb squad specialists combed the area in a search for additional devices.

Photographs on social media showed a woman slumped against the wall with a pool of blood around her and what appeared to be a large shard of metal piercing her back. In front of her was another woman with her leg torn apart above the knee.

Another image showed the destroyed toilet cubicle with a blood-splattered handrail and debris strewn all over the floor.

President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an investigation into the incident.

Security has improved in Bogota over the past decade as police and military increased surveillance and put more armed officials on the streets. At one time all bags were checked at the entrance to shopping malls, but that has been vastly scaled back in recent years.

Sniffer dogs still check cars at parking facilities in the capital.

A peace accord signed last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's biggest guerrilla group, raised confidence bomb attacks might cease.

The country's second-largest insurgent group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in February exploded a device in Bogota that injured dozens of police.

The ELN, a Marxist insurgency currently negotiating peace with the government, denied any involvement in a tweet and condemned the attack against civilians.

Authorities said there have been threats of attacks in Bogota by the so-called Gulf Clan, a group of former right-wing paramilitary fighters who traffic drugs.