American Arrested in Bolivian Bombings

I think not
LA PAZ, Bolivia - An American man and his Uruguayan girlfriend were arrested Wednesday after bombs severely damaged two low-budget hotels in Bolivia's capital, killing two people and injuring at least seven.

Police initially said the blasts were "typical of terrorist crime," and President Evo Morales lost no time in denouncing them as an attack on Bolivia's democracy.

"This American was putting bombs in hotels," Morales said. "The U.S. government fights terrorism, and they send us terrorists."

But other Bolivian officials discounted terrorism as a motive, saying the American appeared to be mentally ill.

"The possible motives behind these attacks are incomprehensible. There don't seem to be any concrete objectives other than causing deaths," Deputy Interior Minister Rafael Puente told Radio Fides.

A third attack was foiled by police, Puente said.

Police identified the suspects as Claudio Lestad, 25, of New Orleans, and Alda Ribeiro, 40, of Uruguay, though authorities said Lestad used various names, including "Lestat Claudius de Orleans y Montevideo."

Police said the couple was arrested early Wednesday in a hotel in the neighboring slum of El Alto.

La Paz district attorney Jorge Gutierrez said the suspects entered Bolivia from Argentina and carried out attacks in other Bolivian cities but caused no injuries. They also tried to bomb an ATM machine in northern Argentina, police said.

In the days before the blasts, the Uruguayan woman had been giving away promotional calendars to businesses in La Paz, with a picture of herself naked and a cardboard box of explosives perched on her knee, according to Marta Silva, who owns a store across from the second hotel.

The calendars offered the "sale and export of explosives, fireworks and liquor," with a phone number and post office box in the Bolivian city of Potosi.

Silva said the overweight, pony-tailed American and his girlfriend appeared to use downtown La Paz as a base for their travels, leaving for Lake Titicaca and returning before the bombs exploded.

And in hindsight, Silva said, there was one thing the woman said that seemed curious: She warned Silva to keep her young niece close to her and not let her go outside.

The fatalities were caused by the first explosion Tuesday night in the Alojamiento Linares hotel in La Paz's historic city center.

The hotel, an old colonial building with iron balconies, is frequented by foreign tourists, but police said the victims, a woman and a man, were presumed to be Bolivian.

An American, identified as Jessica Wilson, was treated at a hospital and released, authorities said. Police said the other injured were Bolivian.

Police said they managed to evacuate the second hotel before the blast hit at about 2 a.m. The hotels are about a mile apart along the narrow streets of downtown La Paz.

Ramiro Calle, an employee at the first hotel, said the two suspects checked in Tuesday night and the hotel was not very full at the time of the blast, which blew away parts of the roof and wall, shattered windows, destroyed an adjacent home and damaged parked cars.

Calle, whose uncle operates the hotel, said he was watching television on the ground floor when the bomb went off a floor above him.

"It knocked me out," Calle said. "I was very frightened."

Wilfredo Quispe, who lives down the street, said "the earth moved" and the street filled with smoke.

"I was terrified," said Helga Bruggeling, an Australian tourist staying across the street. "Our entire building shook. Now we're wondering if it's safe to stay here anymore."

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