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Bush: 'Two-bit terrorists' won't stop Peru trip

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush depart Thursday from Washington as they begin the first leg of a Latin American trip.
President Bush and first lady Laura Bush depart Thursday from Washington as they begin the first leg of a Latin American trip.  


LIMA, Peru (CNN) -- Peruvian police searched for clues Thursday in a deadly car bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Lima that killed at least nine people and wounded at least 25 others just days before a visit to Peru by U.S. President George Bush.

Bush, who left later Thursday on a four-day Latin American trip, said the explosion would not affect his visit to Peru.

"Two-bit terrorists aren't going to prevent me from doing what we need to do and that is to promote our friendship in the hemisphere," Bush said. "Our neighborhood is important to us. Peru is an important country. You bet I'm going."

Senior officials and Secret Service sources said they were fully confident in the security arrangements in place for the president's visit, but added that said a new round of consultations with Peruvian officials was under way because of the bombing.

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, told reporters traveling with Bush to El Paso, Texas, "Our security people made an assessment and nothing has been brought to our attention that would make us change our plans."

There have been no claims of responsibility for the explosion, but before leaving for Texas, Bush indicated the United States had information about who was responsible.

"We might have an idea," Bush said in a brief conversation with CNN's John King in the Oval Office after a meeting with Vice President Cheney. "They have been around before."

Senior administration officials said Bush was speaking of a preliminary belief that the left-wing Shining Path guerrilla movement was responsible for the attack.

Peruvian officials say they foiled a planned Shining Path attack on the Lima embassy late last year, and U.S. officials have voiced concerns about a resurgence of the group, which scarred Peru in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Shining Path -- formed in the 1960s -- has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State.

As for Bush's statements about responsibility, a senior official closely monitoring the developments in Lima said of the Shining Path: "We think it was them. Obviously, when a bomb goes off in the middle of the night we have to wait for more investigation. No one has claimed responsibility. But we have been monitoring them, and it fits with past performance and the short list of people who behave this way."

The vehicle in Wednesday's blast exploded in front of a bank in a shopping center about four blocks from the U.S. Embassy. Two embassy security guards, at least one police officer, and a boy skating in the shopping center parking lot were among those killed in the blast.

Senior officials and Secret Service sources said they were fully confident in the security arrangements in place for the president's visit but also said a new round of consultations with Peruvian officials was under way because of the bombing.

State Department spokeswoman Susan Pittman said the embassy would be open on Thursday, although a large area around the embassy was closed off as a crime scene. Pittman said that embassy personnel said people with non-emergency business at the embassy should put it off until another day.

The explosion left large holes in the street, heavily damaging the bank and breaking windows in neighboring buildings, including a nearby hotel. No injuries were reported in the hotel, and no damage was reported to the embassy itself.

Peru's Vice President Raul Diez Canseco said the government condemns and rejects acts of terrorism and will make every effort to find those responsible for the bombing. He said the military has been put on high alert.

President Alejandro Toledo was at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Mexico when the blast occurred, but cut the trip short. Canseco is acting president until Toledo's return.

-- Journalist Claudia Cisneros and CNN White House Correspondents John King, Major Garrett and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 







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