Bomb in Colombia goes off during investigation of assassination

Saturday, February 15, 2003

NEIVA, Colombia -- A massive explosion ripped through a house Friday as it was being searched by police investigating a plot to kill President Alvaro Uribe, killing 16 people and scattering debris for blocks in this southern Colombian city.

The predawn explosion destroyed three other houses in the working-class neighborhood adjoining the airport. Authorities said among those killed were nine police officers, an investigator with the attorney general's office and three children.

The blast gouged a 15-foot-deep crater in the ground and turned a quiet neighborhood into a scene of devastation.

Security officials said the rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, planned to kill the president today as he flew to Neiva, a city of some 250,000 residents about 250 miles south of Bogota.

The rebels allegedly planned to kill Uribe by detonating the bomb as his plane flew low overhead -- the house was in the flight path -- or by firing mortar rounds, authorities said.

Tipped that there might be explosives and mortar tubes in four houses in Neiva, police and the investigator from the federal prosecutor's office raided the homes at 5:30 a.m.

The explosion was heard throughout the city and scattered debris for 15 blocks. Dozens of houses were heavily damaged.

"My God! My God," said Irma Diaz, whose house disappeared in the blast. "Every day, something worse happens."

The government canceled peace talks with the FARC a year ago after the rebels hijacked an airliner.

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