BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — A car bomb exploded inside a military base in the Colombian border town of Cucuta on Tuesday, leaving 36 people injured, including three in critical condition, officials said. A small number of U.S. troops were at the base at the time, but not harmed, officials said.
During an emergency visit to the base, Defense Minister Diego Molano described the blast as a “vile terrorist attack” that targeted Colombian soldiers and sought to injure as many troops as possible.
The U.S. Embassy in Bogota wrote on its Twitter account that a small group of American military personnel were at the base when the explosion occurred but were not harmed. The U.S. soldiers were there to conduct training exercises, the embassy said.
“A small element of U.S. military personnel were at the Colombian military base in Cúcuta conducting training with a Colombian host unit at the time of the explosion,” U.S. Southern Command, which oversees military operations in the region, told Military Times via email. “All personnel have been accounted for and there are no reports of any serious injuries.”
Molano said the National Liberation Army, Colombia’s largest remaining rebel group, was likely behind the attack, though he did not provide any evidence to support that claim.
He also said dissident members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a group that signed a peace deal with the government in 2016, could have been involved.
Cucuta is located on the border with Venezuela and is the capital of North Santander state, where several criminal groups are fighting over drug trafficking routes and use the loosely patrolled border with Venezuela to smuggle fuel and weapons.
Last year a group of U.S. military trainers and advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade spent time at the base that was bombed Tuesday, where they helped the Colombian military to plan anti narcotics operations.
Videos posted on social media showed dark columns of smoke rising from the base followed by a loud explosion that shattered windows and destroyed offices.
The explosion comes as antigovernment protests appear to wind down in Colombia, with protest leaders announcing Tuesday that they will suspend marches that have been going on for seven weeks. At least 50 people have died in the protests over poverty and growing inequality, which started on April 28.
Molano said Tuesday’s explosion occurred shortly after 3 p.m. when men disguised as soldiers drove a white pick up truck into the base.
In 2019, a car bomb set off by the ELN at a police academy in Bogota, killed 21 people and prompted the government to end peace talks with the rebel group.
This is a developing story. Stay with Military Times for updates.