(Updates death toll and number of injured)
By Nelson Bocanegra and Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA, Jan 17 (Reuters) - A car bomb exploded at a police academy in Colombia’s capital Bogota on Thursday, killing at least nine people and wounding over 20 in an attack that prompted fears of a return to the country’s violent past.
The car rammed into the grounds of the General Santander School in the south of the capital before the explosion, which shattered windows of apartments in the vicinity.
President Ivan Duque called the bomb a “miserable terrorist act...against our police” and said he was returning to the capital from the west of the country, where he had been attending a meeting on security.
He said he had ordered security forces to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. It was not immediately clear whether the attacker or attackers managed to escape, or died at the scene.
The Defense Ministry said in a statement that nine people were killed and 24 wounded, but did not say if the casualties were police or civilians. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
A police helicopter hovered over the area and family members of cadets at the academy were gathered, many crying as they sought information. Ambulances were still leaving the scene.
Images on social media showed the remains of a vehicle in flames in the parking area of the police school, and emergency responders at the scene.
“It was a car bomb that unfortunately broke through the security checkpoints,” Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez told reporters.
Car bombs were frequent during decades of civil war between the state and various leftist rebel groups, as well as in the violence involving the Medellin drug cartel led by dead drug lord Pablo Escobar.
The worst of the war, which killed some 260,000 and left millions displaced, ended when the government reached a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016.
The last major attack was in January 2018 when the largest active rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), detonated a bomb in the northern port city of Barranquilla, killing five police officers and injuring dozens.
The ELN, made up of some 2,000 fighters and considered a terrorist organization by the United States, has been in talks with the government since February 2017 to end the conflict.
Duque, who took office in August, has conditioned peace talks on the ELN suspending hostilities and releasing all hostages.
On Wednesday, the ELN said in a statement it had kidnapped three crewmen of a civil helicopter it “neutralized” last week. In response, Colombia’s High Peace Commissioner, Miguel Ceballos, said the ELN “was moving further and further away from the possibility of dialogue.”
There was no indication the ELN was behind the attack in Bogota or that the kidnapping was linked.
As violence has receded in recent years, Colombia has taken off as a tourist destination with more than three million foreign visitors in 2017, up from one million in 2006. (Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra and Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Frances Kerry and Angus Berwick Editing by Alistair Bell)