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FLASH ALERT: HIGH RISK OF POSSIBLE ARMED ATTACKS BY THE NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY (ELN) IN COLOMBIA

Team: Stacey Casas, Jhamil Moya, Daniel Ruiz, SOUTHCOM Team

Clea Guastavino, Cassandra Townsend, Senior Editors

Week of: Monday, February 21, 2022


E.L.N. Guerrilla Members[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for the Colombian civilian population, with special attention to the departments of Arauca, Cesar, Cauca, Cucuta, and north of Santander, due to the threat of an “armed strike” by the National Liberation Army (ELN).[2] ELN published a threat on social media on February 20, 2022 consisting of restrictions on transportation and mobilization of the civilian population, and threats of armed violence if these restrictions are ignored. The threat also states that only people or vehicles carrying out funeral or emergency activities will be allowed to circulate during this time.[3] According to the statement, the armed strike will be valid from 0600 local time on Wednesday, February 23, 2022, until 0600 local time on Saturday, February 26, 2022.[4] In response, the Colombian government, through Defense Minister Diego Molano Aponte, said that it will not allow an armed strike by ELN rebels, and it will guarantee the mobility of Colombians by deploying security forces in all their capacity to neutralize any security contingency.[5] Threats from narco-terrorist groups will likely continue throughout February since the legislative elections in Colombia will be held on March 13, 2022. The ELN, among other groups, will likely increase social pressure to balance electoral results in their favor, affecting voter safety and security during the elections.


CTG is on HIGH ALERT due to the possible escalation of violence in Colombia in the event that the ELN executes its threat of an "armed strike." It is VERY LIKELY that tension between the Colombian security forces and the ELN will continue to rise in the days leading to the legislative elections on March 13, 2022. There are 240,000 elements from the security forces deployed throughout Colombia to put the "Democracy Plan" into motion, which seeks to guarantee security before, during, and after the Colombian legislative elections.[6]


On Sunday, February 20, 2022, the ELN released a statement on social media that "decreed" an armed strike against the Colombian government, threatening possible violent acts between February 23 and 26, 2022. The statement cites: "We recommend that the population remain in their homes or workplaces and avoid displacement for security reasons. The authorities will not be able to respond for damages that may be suffered by vehicles that disobey the stop order.”[7] Colombia’s Defense Minister, Diego Molano Aponte, expressed that security forces are prepared to face these threats against the population, and have deployed troops all around the country.[8]


Similar events occurred in Colombia on July 2, 2014, when threats were made by the Eastern War Front of the ELN announcing an armed strike on the Colombian government.[9] The ELN executed these threats by attacking various locations in the departments of Casanare, Arauca, and Santanderes with explosives.[10] These events also occurred around election time in Colombia. The similarity with the current threat will very likely trigger maximum alerts in the departments of Arauca and Santanderes, since both were threatened in the same manner by the ELN. The use of explosives in hidden packages left on highways or checkpoints is very likely, as this was also done in the past.


In 2019, Colombian President Ivan Duque canceled peace talks with the ELN after the rebel group bombed a police academy, killing over 20 people.[11] Currently, the ELN is Colombia’s largest armed rebel group.[12] By holding a three-day armed strike weeks before the legislative elections, it is very likely that the ELN rebels are using the upcoming election to reduce the government’s credibility among Colombian citizens. If the Colombian government is unable to protect its citizens against ELN forces during this armed strike, other rebel groups operating in Colombia, such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissidents, will likely become increasingly violent to counter ELN’s stronghold in the region. Increased violence and political instability will likely lead voters to demand political reforms to ensure more safety and security. As more voters become discontent with the current government’s response to the ELN threats, they will likely vote for opposing parties. If the current government loses its credibility among citizens, political and social instability will very likely increase, giving the ELN and other rebel groups more influence in the country.


The SOUTHCOM Team recommends reporting any suspicious activity to law enforcement and emergency services immediately. The movement of ELN members and of unknown artifacts such as backpacks, packages, and boxes on the sides of roads should be reported. Due to the high possibility of attacks, travel should only be done in case of emergency until the hostilities have passed and the Colombian government states the viability of movement without danger to society in the affected areas. Additionally, the CTG recommends that all citizens and those traveling to Colombia remain cautious of potential threats, as violence will very likely continue up to the next elections.


CTG assesses that the current climate of threat is VERY HIGH in the areas of Arauca and Santanderes, due to the high probability of using explosives to attack vehicles traveling along roads. Armed confrontations in conflict zones between ELN members and law enforcement will very likely occur. Due to the history of violence between the Colombian government and rebel groups such as the ELN, political and social instability will very likely continue to increase in the country as violence remains high. As more government armed forces are deployed across Colombia, safety and security will likely be a cause for concern among the civilian population as escalating violence between the Colombian government and ELN rebels will very likely lead to collateral civilian casualties.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that violence will increase from ELN rebels against the Colombian government. This will almost certainly pose an increased risk for Colombian citizens and neighboring countries as civilians will likely seek to flee the violence. Analysis indicates that the three-day armed strike will very likely have social, economic, and political impacts throughout the country, particularly if the government is unable to stop the rising violence among rebel groups operating in the region.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. CTG resources are delivered to advise clients on a business resilience process using current threat intelligence data. We scan for threats across the following regions; Africa, Central Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Asia-Pacific. Our organization assesses evolving threats through, Worldwide Analysis of Threats, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) services. Our W.A.T.C.H Officers and Digital Targeters monitor the threat posed by cyber threats, insider threats, fraud, espionage, hazards, reputational damages, violent crime, kidnappings, and bombing threats. To find out more about our products and W.A.T.C.H. services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.

 

[1]Guerrilha ELN - Colômbia Profunda 11” by Brasil de Fato licensed under 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

[2] Colombia ELN rebels call for three day curfew, Reuters, February 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombia-eln-rebels-call-three-day-curfew-2022-02-21/

[3] Ibid

[4] Comunicado Público, Twitter, February 20, 2022, https://twitter.com/PascaGuerrero/status/1495393442473693190 (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[5] Colombia no se amedrenta frente a unos panfletos del ELN, Twitter, February 20, 2022, https://twitter.com/Diego_Molano/status/1495534225969324033?s=20&t=9LHXTjI2hBO-QrHSDO2tVw (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[6] Paro armado del ELN tiene fines políticos: MinDefensa, Semana, February 2022, https://www.semana.com/nacion/articulo/paro-armado-del-eln-tiene-fines-politicos-mindefensa/202256/ (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[7] Comunicado Público, Twitter, February 20, 2022, https://twitter.com/PascaGuerrero/status/1495393442473693190 (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[8] Ibid

[9] “Comunicado a la opinión pública,” API Publicaciónes Semana, 2014, http://static.iris.net.co/semana/upload/documents/Documento_393955_20140701.pdf (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[10] Petición a ministerios de Interior y Defensa para prevenir violaciones a los derechos humanos por paro armado del ELN, Defensoría del Pueblo, July 2014, https://www.defensoria.gov.co/es/nube/noticias/1992/Petici%C3%B3n-a-ministerios-de-Interior-y-Defensa-para-prevenir-violaciones-a-los-derechos-humanos-por-paro-armado-del-ELN-ELN-paro-armado-DIH-Derecho-Internacional-Humanitario-Derechos-Humanos-Ministerio-del-Interior.htm (translated by Jhamil Moya)

[11] Colombia ELN rebels call for three day curfew, Reuters, February 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombia-eln-rebels-call-three-day-curfew-2022-02-21/

[12] Colombia: At least 23 dead in clashes between armed rebel groups, Al Jazeera, January 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/1/3/colombia-at-least-16-dead-in-clashes-between-armed-rebel-groups

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