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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 23:31 GMT
Who was behind Peru's bomb attack?
Policeman guards the scene
Police suspect Shining Path rebels launched the attack
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By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Medellin, Colombia

It is clear that the car bomb placed opposite the US Embassy in Peru was designed to protest against, disrupt or even force the cancellation of US President George W Bush's visit on Saturday.

What is not certain is who was behind it and why.

The Shining Path is enjoying a resurgence, in no small part thanks to an increase in the cultivation of drug crops

The attack killed nine people and wounded 32 others.

The prime suspect for Peru's security forces - and hinted at by President Bush when he said "they have been around before" - is the rebel Shining Path movement.

Jhon Caro, a former director of Peru's anti-terrorism police, said the attack had all the trademarks of a Shining Path operation and was probably provoked by Mr Bush's pledge to fight terrorism around the world.

The Shining Path movement brought Peru to its knees in the early 1990s before the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992.

Drug supply

It set off waves of car bombs around Lima and ambushed security forces in its strongholds in the country's forested highlands.

After Mr Guzman's capture the group disintegrated, falling from a peak of 10,000 guerrillas to fewer than 600 today.

Yet the Shining Path is enjoying a resurgence, in no small part thanks to an increase in the cultivation of drug crops - coca for cocaine, and opium poppy for heroin.

Abimael Guzman
Shining Path dwindled after the capture of Abimael Guzman
There is mounting evidence that Colombian drugs traffickers, suffering from America's war on drugs in their country, are looking to Peru to make up the supply.

Imitating their powerful guerrilla counterparts in Colombia - who earn hundred of millions of dollars every year from the drugs trade - the Shining Path has begun to "tax" narcotics and offer security to drugs traffickers.

The group burst back into the headlines last August when it ambushed a patrol of counter-insurgency police, killing 16.

There is also evidence to suggest that Colombia's 25,000 guerrillas, who control almost 40% of the country including the border with Peru, have been active within Peru and have perhaps been in contact with remnants of the Shining Path.

Other suspects

The Colombian guerrillas would be very keen to disrupt Bush's visit as he is due to meet Colombian President Andres Pastrana and discuss increasing US military aid to fight the Marxist rebels.

Another possible suspect is the smaller Peruvian group the MRTA or Tupac Amaru.

They took over the Japanese Embassy in Lima in 1996, holding 72 people for four months until Peruvian security forces stormed the compound and killed all 14 guerrillas.

President Alejandro Toledo
President Toledo has vowed that terrorism will not win
All but one of the hostages were rescued alive.

Some of the graffiti in downtown Lima indicates that anti-American sentiment exists - "Bush go away" and "Yankees go home" are painted across walls.

More revealing is the slogan "Plan Colombia = Death", a reference to the US war on drugs in Colombia.

Another theory being whispered around Lima that disgraced President Alberto Fujimori's shadowy spychief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has reached out from his prison cell in Lima.

Mr Montesinos is awaiting trial for corruption, torture and murder, but through his network of still loyal security force members, is believed to have significant influence.

Tight security

Rumours persist that he is trying to destabilise the country and discredit the government just when the world's eyes are turning towards Peru.

"This guy (Montesinos) is a meshuggena," said the US-educated President Alejandro Toledo recently in New York, using a Yiddish word for a crazy person.

"He goes to court and he has the supreme judges by the you-know-where."

Whoever was behind the attack, it certainly seemed to be a protest against President Bush's visit.

He is only on Peruvian soil for 17 hours but these are bound to involve the greatest personal security operation the country has ever seen.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Americas
Peru bomb fails to deter Bush
07 Jan 02 | Americas
Colombia's most powerful rebels
20 Apr 01 | Americas
Peru rebels stage hunger strike
21 Mar 02 | Americas
In pictures: Peru car blast
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Peru
21 Feb 02 | Americas
Timeline: Peru
15 Jul 99 | Americas
Peru's Shining Path - who are they?
21 Mar 02 | Americas
Peru's violent past
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