SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A bomb exploded next to an underground train station in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday afternoon, wounding at least 10 people, and the government said it bore the signs of “a terrorist” act.
The blast occurred at lunchtime in a fast-food restaurant in a small shopping and eating area next to the Escuela Militar metro station in the affluent residential and shopping neighborhood of Las Condes.
“This is a cowardly act because it has as its objective to hurt people, create fear and even kill innocent people,” President Michelle Bachelet said.
“We’re going to use all the weight of the law, including the anti-terrorist law, because those responsible for these acts have to pay,” she said.
Anti-terrorism laws give prosecutors more powers and allow for harsher sentencing.
Bachelet asked for residents to remain calm, saying, “This is horrible, tremendously reprehensible, but Chile is and remains a safe country.”
No group has claimed responsibility, and the police said the attack was being investigated.
“This is an act that has all the hallmarks of a terrorist deed,” Alvaro Elizalde, the government’s chief spokesman, said in remarks to journalists outside La Moneda presidential palace. “There is no doubt. And it has been carried out with the intention of hurting innocent people.”
Chile, which returned to democracy in 1990 after a 17-year dictatorship, is normally one of Latin America’s most stable countries and has not suffered an attack of this magnitude in at least 20 years.
However, there have been a number of low-level attacks by anarchist groups in recent years, including in July, and Monday’s blast will put pressure on Bachelet to respond at a time when her popularity is slipping and she has her plate full with a reform drive and worsening economy.
“At 1400 (1700 GMT) an explosive device was detonated in the center (mini-mall) by the metro station, and at the moment investigations are being carried out to determine the origin,” Mario Rozas, head of police communications, said.
Interior Minister Mahmud Aleuy said security cameras showed that two suspects planted the device in a metal container, possibly a trash can, outside the fast-food restaurant and escaped in a car.
None of the injuries were fatal. Local health officials said a Venezuelan man in his 30s suffered trauma to his leg and a woman had at least one of her fingers amputated. Others suffered hearing losses.
Government authorities increased the number of wounded to at least 10, from a previous estimate of seven.
“I was having lunch, I felt the noise and we went out to see and we saw a lot of smoke, people running and shouting,” said Joanna Magneti, who works in the shopping center.
“A young man was badly wounded, a lady had her hand wounded,” she said.
A number of explosive devices have been planted close to banks and police stations in Chile in recent years.
In the past, one member of an anarchist group has been killed and another injured trying to set off explosive devices, but no bystanders have been hurt.
In July, incendiary devices exploded on an underground train and outside a church without causing injuries. Leaflets were found at the church site seeking “rights” for two Chileans held in Spain and linked to an extremist anarchist group.
This week Chile commemorates the 41st anniversary of the 1973 military coup that removed socialist President Salvador Allende from power. The events of the coup still deeply divide Chilean society, and the anniversary is traditionally a time of protests that often turn violent.
The metro was operating normally on Monday evening, police said.
Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta, Fabian Cambero and Anthony Esposito; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli, Jeffrey Benkoe and Leslie Adler