Colombia's National Liberation Army (ELN) official Rafael Antonio Botero Restrepo has been arrested on suspicion of masterminding a fatal bombing attack against a police station, President Juan Manuel Santos has confirmed.
The ELN's National Urban Front leader, known as 'Tista,' was arrested Thursday for allegedly ordering the Jan. 27 attack in the San Jose neighborhood of Barranquilla, on the Colombian coast, which killed seven police officers.
Restrepo is one of eight ELN officials wanted on charges of recruiting almost 100 minors into combat from 12 departments. A total of 31 girls and 66 boys were recruited into the guerrilla army, 41 of whom were Indigenous and would have been forced from their homes had they refused to comply.
"He is accused of recruiting minors and of the attack on the Macarena bullring a year ago," Santos said following the IV Binational Cabinet between Colombia and Ecuador. "As coordinator of the National Urban Front, he was also allegedly responsible for the recent attack in which seven policemen died in Barranquilla."
The Colombian government is also offering a US$53 million reward for anyone with information leading to the capture of Walter 'Gaucho' Arisala, an Ecuadorean rebel allegedly once associated with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the Commons (FARC), who is suspected of authorizing a car bombing in Ecuador's Esmeraldas on the same day.
Since the attack in San Lorenzo, which injured 28, investigators from the Ecuadorean, Colombian and U.S. intelligence agencies have theorized that the bombing was an act of retaliation committed by a drug-trafficking organization.
"(The bombing) is associated with a binational fight against criminal organizations, in this case with a FARC dissident of Ecuadorean origin, aka Guacho, who used our border to avoid the repercussions of serious crimes... to take refuge," said Colombian Prosecutor Nestor Martinez in the wake of the attack.
Guacho, a merchant and explosives expert, is believed to have left the FARC guerrilla group after it signed a peace accord with the government in 2016 in order to form his own team of fighters. He and his band of 55 guerrillas are suspected of organizing a number of attacks in Mataje, Vallenato, Puerto Rico and Mira River, El Universal reports.
In an effort to secure the border, Ecuadorean Defense Minister Patricio Zambrano has requested a list of FARC properties in Ecuador to which the group's Colombian wing may have access.
Martinez said in January that the ministry has an itemized list of the FARC's rural, urban, automotive and livestock holdings in Ecuador amounting to US$15 million. Zambrano is reportedly still awaiting a response from Colombia.