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BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Though an army offensive has battered Colombia's FARC rebels, they are by no means defeated and may be getting a boost from a powerful ally: the Basque terrorist group ETA.
Colombia’s Caracol TV station broadcast a report Thursday night claiming FARC commandos trained by ETA planned to bombard the national palace in downtown Bogotá on Aug. 7, the day Juan Manuel Santos was sworn-in as Colombia’s new president.
The plot was foiled three days before the ceremony by intelligence agents who confiscated rebel documents describing the plan as well as five powerful, remote-control cannons and 18 grenade launchers. Agents said the attack was to be launched from a house located near the palace that had been recently purchased by a rebel militiaman.
In one of the captured FARC documents, the rebels assert: “The advisors the ETA have sent us are now in the field giving instructions… There are 250 troops receiving training.”
It’s not the first time the FARC – which stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - has been linked to ETA.
Colombian authorities claim that since 2003 ETA personnel have been teaching bomb-making techniques to FARC fighters at camps located in neighboring Venezuela, where President Hugo Chávez openly admires the guerrillas. Earlier this year, a Spanish judge leveled charges of terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder against Chávez and a dozen members of the FARC and ETA.
Chávez denied the charges, saying: “This government does not endorse nor support any terrorist group… We have nothing to explain to anyone.”
Either way, the foiled operation shows that Colombian intelligence has improved vastly over the past eight years.
In 2002, the FARC pulled off a nearly identical attack just as Álvaro Uribe was being sworn-in as Colombia's president. Though Uribe and invited dignitaries went unscathed, a barrage of home-made rockets shot from a nearby house hit the national palace and surrounding neighborhoods, killing 19 people and injuring 60.
Had it gone off as planned, this month's plot could have been even bloodier.
“We are fortunate this attack didn’t occur,” said Colombian Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras, who knows a thing or two about the FARC’s terrorist capacities: His face and left-hand were mutilated in 2002 when the FARC sent him a package bomb hidden in a gift-wrapped book.