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FARC denies club bomb involvement

Statement claims government was responsible

A photo of John Freddy Arellan sits in his grandmother's Bogota house.
A photo of John Freddy Arellan sits in his grandmother's Bogota house.

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BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) -- Colombia's largest rebel group has denied responsibility for a February 7 car bomb explosion in a Bogota social club that killed 36 people, saying that its members condemn acts of terrorism.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said that its top brass conducted a "patient, rigorous and earnest investigation inside all of its political-military structures" before determining that not a single FARC member or unit participated in the attack.

The statement, which was signed Sunday and posted on the FARC's web site, claimed that the government planted the bomb, then blamed the FARC in order to unite the country against the rebels.

Colombian authorities declared the FARC responsible the day after the bomb exploded in the parking lot of Club El Nogal, marking the worst terrorist attack in Colombia in more than a decade. The blast, which wounded 160 people, blew out walls, collapsed floors and set the building on fire.

Officials are investigating whether rebels paid John Freddy Arellan -- a squash champion and El Nogal member who was killed in the blast -- to help carry out the attack. Arellan allegedly owned the car that brought in the bomb and was driven in by Arellan's uncle, who also died in the explosion.

Local newspapers have reported that, once Arellan got access to the club and planted the bomb, he was no longer useful to the rebels, so they detonated the bomb before he and his uncle had a chance to leave the building.

Colombia's Attorney General Luis Camilo Osorio expressed surprise at the FARC's declaration of innocence. He told Caracol Radio on Monday that there was evidence linking the FARC to the attack as well as proof that Arellan was a member of the rebel group.

Osorio also said he hoped the FARC was serious when it highlighted its decision made in the Eighth National Guerrilla Conference in 1993 to refrain from committing terrorist attacks.

"Violent acts that aim to intimidate the civil population . . . can only lead to uncertainty and widespread repudiation," the FARC statement said. "Our policies are justified because we are interpreters for a country intimidated by terrorism (by) the state."

The FARC is one of three Colombian groups on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorists, along with another leftist rebel group and a right-wing paramilitary organization. The rebels have waged a 38-year-old war against the Colombian government.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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