Country Report on Terrorism 2017 - Chapter 1 - Colombia

Overview: Colombia experienced a continued decrease in terrorist activity in 2017, due in large part to the November 2016 peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The UN ended the disarmament phase of its monitoring and verification mission on September 25, collecting 8,994 arms, 1.7 million rounds, and more than 40 tons of explosives. The Government of Colombia accredited roughly 11,000 ex-combatants for transition to civilian life. There were challenges implementing the peace accord, however, and a small number of dissident groups rejected the process. Reports confirmed some of these groups continued extortion and illicit activities.

Peace talks between the Colombian government and the other major terrorist organization active in the country, the National Liberation Army (ELN), continued. In an effort to generate trust between parties, the government and ELN agreed to a three-month ceasefire, beginning October 1, which was the first such agreement during the 50-year conflict. ELN kidnappings, forced displacements, and attacks on the military, civilian population, and critical infrastructure dropped dramatically since October, with only one confirmed ceasefire violation. Nevertheless, ELN attacks spiked in rural and border regions prior to the ceasefire, and local communities reported ELN-related extortion and displacement continued even after the ceasefire.

Overall, the number of dissident FARC and ELN individuals who were either killed or captured decreased compared to 2016, while individual desertions increased. Civilian deaths caused by terrorism continued to fall nationwide. Colombian-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation remained strong and Colombia has openly condemned ISIS and its objectives.

2017 Terrorist Incidents: Colombian government statistics showed a 40 percent decrease in terrorist incidents from 2016. This does not include incidents related to organized criminal groups. FARC dissident groups have conducted a small number of attacks on security forces and civilians.[1]

Prior to the October 1 ceasefire, the ELN continued low-cost, high-impact asymmetric attacks. An explosive device was detonated June 17 in the Andino Mall in Bogotá, killing three and injuring 10. The Colombian National Police (CNP) believe the People’s Revolutionary Movement – a relatively new violent group with ideological connections to the ELN – was responsible. An investigation led to the capture of nine suspected perpetrators. Among 2017 attacks, several others were notable for their severity or press coverage:

  • The ELN claimed responsibility for a February 19 attack in the La Macarena neighborhood in Bogotá in which a police officer was killed.
  • On September 30, three police officers were killed in Miranda, Cauca department, in an attack believed to have been conducted by FARC dissidents.
  • In September, just before the October 1 ceasefire, the ELN carried out a series of attacks on the Caño2017 Terrorist Incidents: Colom Limon-Covenas oil pipeline in Norte de Santander and Arauca departments. In 2017, there were 45 attacks on the pipeline prior to the ceasefire.
  • On October 25, members of the ELN claimed responsibility for killing an indigenous leader in Choco department. The ELN later acknowledged it was a ceasefire violation.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: There have been no changes to terrorism-related legislation and investigation procedures since 2016. Colombian authorities continued to operate joint police-military task forces to enhance coordination in countering terrorism.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs supported the U.S. Department of Justice, through its International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP), to continue to work with the Attorney General’s Office and other agencies to improve standards for investigators, forensic experts, and criminal analysts. In 2017, ICITAP trained more than 160 wire communication analysts. In addition, at the request of the CNP criminal investigation unit, ICITAP began working with the National Police Cyber Center to achieve accreditation.

Colombian border security remained an area of vulnerability. Law enforcement officers faced the challenge of working in areas with porous borders and difficult topography plagued by the presence of illegal armed groups and drug trafficking. The CNP lacked the personnel to enforce uniform policies for vehicle or passenger inspections at land crossings. Biometric and biographic screening was conducted only at international airports. The Colombian government uses Advance Passenger Information but does not collect Passenger Name Record data. Of its 184,000 officers, the CNP has 2,202 working on customs enforcement activities.

Colombia remained a transit point for the smuggling of third-country nationals who may seek to enter the United States illegally. In 2017, economic challenges in Venezuela contributed to the migration of 660,000 Venezuelans, roughly half of whom entered Colombia illegally, according to Colombia’s immigration authority. While the authority regularly detained third-country nationals who entered the country illegally, it lacked the personnel, enforcement power, and resources to respond to possible threats and repatriate migrants.

There were no significant changes since 2016 in cooperation on border security, evidence sharing, and joint law enforcement operations with neighboring countries. Law enforcement cooperation between Colombia and the United States remained strong.

In 2017, security forces captured or killed a number of high-value dissident FARC and ELN targets wanted for homicide, narcotics trafficking, and forced displacement.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Colombia is a member of the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America, a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. Colombia’s Financial Information and Analysis Unit is a member of the Egmont Group. There were no significant changes in countering the financing of terrorism since 2016. For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2018 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes.

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE): The peace accord with the FARC initiated a disarmament, demobilization, and reincorporation process that allowed 11,000 ex-combatants and militia members to disarm. The accord’s reincorporation council continues to determine protocols and institutional arrangements for reincorporation of ex-combatants. The Agency for Reincorporation and Normalization (ARN), formerly the Colombian Reintegration Agency (ACR), is the implementing arm of this process. Delays in implementing the program, caused by the refusal of FARC leadership to permit members to actively and effectively participate, increased the prospects that some ex-combatants would return to engaging in criminal activities.

Colombia continued to employ a modern, multi-agency approach to CVE, with a focus on encouraging individual guerrillas to demobilize. In 2017, the number of ex-combatants successfully graduating from the ARN’s individual program (separate from those demobilized as a result of the accord with the FARC) reached more than 18,960. The number of FARC and ELN members who demobilized individually increased from 704 to 827. The city of Medellin is a founding member of the Strong Cities Network.

International and Regional Cooperation: There have been no significant changes to Colombia’s international and regional security cooperation since 2016. Colombia is a founding member of the Global Counter Terrorism Forum and continues to lead in providing security training and assistance to other countries in the region. In 2017, Colombia conducted more than 400 security trainings for thousands of non‑Colombian individuals on citizen security, crime prevention and monitoring, military and police capacity building, anti-kidnapping, anti-extortion, hostage negotiation, and cyber-security.

[1] The FARC remains a Foreign Terrorist Organization under the Immigration and Nationality Act. However, the Colombian government classifies FARC dissidents as criminals. While the ideological motivations of such groups and ongoing connections with demobilized FARC are unclear, we have included acts of violence by FARC dissidents in this report.