Two police officers and a woman in a nearby apartment were killed after a youth tried to bomb the Israeli Embassy today. Several people were injured in the blast, but none of them were in the embassy.
According to witnesses, the unidentified youth entered the apartment building carrying a briefcase and climbed to the Israeli Embassy offices on the fourth floor of the five-story structure. Diplomatic sources said he passed through a security clearance at the embassy and then departed, leaving behind the briefcase.
An embassy security officer, suspicious of the case, called Quito police for help.
Police said officer Victor Jimenez was just a few feet from the front door of the building when the bomb exploded and killed him. Jimenez was descending the stairwell of the building with the briefcase in hand and was between the first and second floors of the building when the briefcase exploded. The other policeman who was killed had gone to Jimenez's aid just before the explosion.
Correspondent Jackson Diehl in Buenos Aires quoted diplomatic sources in Ecuador as saying that the concussion from the blast knocked a woman in a nearby second-floor apartment through a window, killing her.
Reports of other casualties conflicted, but authorites said that several people who worked in the first and second floors of the building were taken to hospitals for treatment of shock and hysteria. A passerby was also reportedly injured by the bomb.
Eliezer Armon, Israel's ambassador to Ecuador, said he did not know why the bombing attempt occurred. "This is a criminal act that has affected innocent people," he said.
Quito police cordoned off the downtown street in front of the building for three hours while they were investigating and clearing away rubble.
Because of the sophistication of the bomb, said to be a time bomb concealed under a false bottom in the briefcase, diplomatic sources said no local groups were under suspicion for the attack.
No one claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, and seven Israeli citizens who were in the embassy at the time and were questioned by police said they did not have any information regarding the bombing.
Agence France-Presse reported the following from Quito:
The bombing was the first major terrorist attack in two years in Ecuador, which, unlike some of its neighbors, has been spared both international and domestic terrorism.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman condemned the bombing and said a government investigation would be opened.
It was the second recent attack on the Jewish community here, however. A smaller bomb slightly damaged an Israeli-Ecuadoran goodwill association near the Quito synagogue on the Jewish new year but responsibility for it was never claimed.
Although there is some support for the Palestinian cause here, Israel supplies military aid to Ecuador and the two countries have good relations. In denouncing the Palestinian massacres in Beirut, the government never directly accused Israel.
The attack occurred amid a changing social-political-economic climate here.
President Oswaldo Hurtado declared a state of emergency last month following union demonstrations. His stringent economic measures to counter the country's economic crisis also triggered clashes for the third day today between police and students not far from the bombing site.