The leftwing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, has been blamed for the most recent bombing and seems the most likely candidate. FARC was established in 1964 as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party.
According to American intelligence, FARC has long since abandoned its Marxist politics and is now motivated by the production and trafficking of cocaine for vast sums of money.
And it continues to attack mainstream Colombian society, and mainstream society and media see the audacious Club Nogal bombing as an example of how alleged IRA and ETA technology have expanded FARC’s repertoire of bombs and mortars.
Only the elite of Bogota’s governing and commercial class used Club Nogal. A vehicle in the parking garage on the third floor exploded shortly after 7 p.m. The final toll was 37 dead, including six children.
The BBC Northern Ireland reporters who were in Bogota at the time of the blast recalled the horror of filming the aftermath — “ghastly,” said one.
The presence of the three Irishmen — Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McAuley — in Colombia confirms to many Colombians the allegation that they were helping train FARC guerillas with new car bomb and mortar technology. The men are currently on trial, charged with traveling to Colombia on false passports and for assisting FARC. Their trail was adjourned on April 11 and is scheduled to resume on June 16.
Colombian and British intelligence has claimed that FARC’s bombing ability has increased markedly since around the time that the three Irish men are alleged to have been in Colombia, and documents purporting to back up this claim were represented to a U.S. House International Relations Hearing in April 2002. British sources also claimed Monaghan and McCauley have IRA connections, while Sinn Fein admitted that Connolly was that party’s representative in Cuba.
Not surprisingly the Irish, American and Australian observers and supporters at the trial were frequently the target of a group of pro-government protestors outside the courthouse each morning.
Led by the eccentric Rodrigo Obregon, the group held posters and signs that read “IRA + FARC = DEATH,” “Ireland, please keep your terrorists at home,” and in one case, a fake metal canister meant to resemble a mortar bomb.
“Why is Mr. Monaghan nicknamed Mr. Mortar in Ireland?” asked Obregon, who runs an organization called Fundacion Colombia Herida, or Foundation for a Wounded Colombia.
Since the 1990s, Obregon has worked to heighten awareness of Colombian soldiers maimed or killed by FARC violence.
Obregon said that he has worked as an actor in Los Angeles and that he once appeared in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film. His scrapbook of media clippings shows him profiled by national newspapers and meeting senior politicians and wounded soldiers.
As observers climbed the steep and rutted little street to the red brick courthouse, Obregon and his group moved in, chanting and waving posters, coming right up to the faces of the Irish contingent.
Catriona Ruane of the Bring Them Home Campaign has complained to authorities, saying that the protestors are intimidatory.
When that claim was put to him, Obregon responded by asking how intimidating did they think the Club Nogal bombing was for the victims and their families.
“The cylinders, the skillful use of explosives, this comes from ETA, IRA,” he said of the enhanced FARC arsenal that authorities now refer to after atrocities, alluding to the IRA.
Members of the Bring Them Home campaign have alleged that his regular appearances at the courthouse include a crowd of so-called protestors whom he has recruited in the neighborhood.
Obregon strenuously denied this and called over one of his protestors, Doris Lozano. In Spanish he asked about her experience, and she said that she had lost her son Ortiz, a soldier, to FARC violence, pulling his military identification card from her purse. She stroked the head of another son, a little boy who held a silver canister made up to look like a mortar, on which were the letters IRA and a skull and crossbones.
Of the Irish delegation, Obregon said: “This is a feeble attempt to make the Colombian judicial system seem like a biased one. We are pretty sure of the FARC-IRA connection. Why did these men feel the need to travel with false passports? [Doris] feels offended by these people coming here. I admire the Irish. I admire my Irish grandmother. I admire their centuries-long fight for independence. But they should keep their bombers at home.”
U.S. legal observers who have spent time in Northern Ireland watching Protestant parades have compared Obregon’s tactics to loyalist intimidation.
But reporters and cameramen at the courthouse in Bogota had a different opinion of Rodrigo Obregon.
Said one, also called Rodrigo: “He is a clown. And a womanizer.”
Obregon said he would protest every day of the trial when it continues.