Bombing at mall in Colombia kills 3 women

At least three women were killed and nine injured after an explosive device detonated in a restroom in an busy upscale shopping centre in Colombia's capital on Saturday, officials said.

9 people were injured in what Bogota's mayor called a 'cowardly terrorist bombing'

People stand outside the Andino shopping centre in Bogota, Colombia after an explosive device detonated in a restroom, killing three women. (Jaime Saldarriaga/Reuters)

At least three women were killed and nine injured after an explosive device detonated in a restroom in an busy upscale shopping centre in Colombia's capital on Saturday, officials said.

The Andino shopping centre in an exclusive area of Bogota was evacuated after the blast at around 5 p.m. local time in the women's lavatory. The Andino commercial centre was packed with people buying gifts ahead of Father's Day celebrations on Sunday.

Police said the device was placed in a toilet bowl in the second-floor restroom. Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa denounced the attack.

"This cowardly terrorist attack in Andino really hurts me," he said on Twitter.

He said the French victim, identified as Julie Huynh, 23, had been in Colombia the past six months volunteering in a poor neighbourhood and was preparing to return to France in the coming days. He said authorities were providing assistance to the victim's mother, who was also in Bogota.

Streets surrounding the shopping centre were closed and buildings evacuated by police as ambulances raced to the scene and security officials tried to establish who was responsible for the blast. Bomb squad specialists combed the area in a search for additional devices.

Photographs on social media showed a woman slumped against the wall with a pool of blood around her and what appears to be a large shard of metal piercing her back. In front of her is another woman with her leg torn apart above the knee.

Another image showed the destroyed toilet cubicle with a blood-splattered handrail and debris strewn all over the floor.

President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an investigation into the bombing.

Santos made a late-night visit to the shopping mall, where he strongly condemned the attack but declined to speculate on who was behind it. He said he would meet with top security advisers Sunday before heading out on a previously-scheduled tour of Europe that includes a planned visit to France.

"The best answer to cowardly terrorism is to not let it unnerve us," he said. "The French know perfectly how to respond to these terrorist attacks and we Colombians too have the will not to let ourselves be intimidated."

Security improvements

Bogota has seen dramatic improvement in security over the past decade as the country's long-running conflict has wound down. But the capital remains vulnerable to attacks as residents let down their guard.

Still, the Andino shopping centre would seem a difficult target. All vehicles entering the parking garage are screened by bomb-sniffing dogs and security guards are present throughout the mall. 

A peace accord signed last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's biggest guerrilla group, raised confidence bomb attacks might cease.

The country's second-largest insurgent group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, in February exploded a device in Bogota that injured dozens of police.

The ELN, a Marxist insurgency currently negotiating peace with the government, denied any involvement and condemned the attack against civilians.

"We ask for seriousness from people making unfounded and reckless accusations," ELN negotiators at peace talks taking place in neighbouring Ecuador said on Twitter. "This is the way people are trying to tear up the peace process."

Authorities said there have been threats of attacks in Bogota by the so-called Gulf Clan, a group of former right-wing paramilitary fighters who traffic drugs.

With files from The Associated Press