WASHINGTON — Seven U.S. military policemen were injured, four of them seriously, in a bomb blast early Thursday morning outside a discotheque in the northern Honduran city of La Ceiba, Pentagon officials said.
The identity of the assailants and the motive for the attack are unknown, officials said, but Honduran and American military authorities are investigating. The FBI is considering asking for authority to enter the case, according to Justice Department sources.
The four seriously wounded soldiers were flown Thursday night to Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Tex., for treatment. U.S. Embassy spokesman Charles V. Barclay said they were "in serious, but stable condition" before leaving Honduras. Two other MPs in the group escaped injury.
The MPs were in La Ceiba, a Caribbean port city about 200 miles north of Tegucigalpa, the capital, to escort a troop convoy to the Enrique Soto Cano Air Base near Comayagua in central Honduras.
The La Ceiba bombing was the fourth and most serious attack on U.S. troops in Honduras this year. In April, assailants attacked a jeep convoy carrying U.S. soldiers outside Olanchita, near La Ceiba, but nobody was injured. In February, gunmen opened fire on a U.S. convoy in Yoro province, but again there were no injuries. Also that month, a blast on a bus in Comayagua wounded three soldiers and two Honduran civilians.
No one has claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, and U.S. officials in Washington said Thursday that they would not speculate on who was behind them.
Col. Eric Sanchez, the Honduran military commander at La Ceiba, told the Associated Press that the explosion occurred at the Lido Discotheque, and four Honduran suspects were being questioned.
U.S. Presence Controversial
The U.S. military presence in Honduras has been controversial since Americans began conducting exercises there in 1982. The United States also supports the Contras, fighting the Sandinista government in neighboring Nicaragua, who take shelter in bases on the Honduran side of the border. Various leftist and opposition groups have called for the removal of the U.S. presence and of the Contras.
About 1,400 American troops are based at Palmerola Air Base in central Honduras, but U.S. National Guard contingents are often rotated through the country for training, road-building exercises or other short-term assignments.
According to local authorities in La Ceiba, a homemade explosive was hurled at a group of nine MPs, who were off-duty and in civilian clothes, as they left the disco at 12:30 a.m. Two of the Americans escaped injury but the other seven were rushed to nearby Vincente D'Antoni Hospital.
Their names and conditions were not available late Thursday.
"Witnesses say the bomb was apparently thrown from a car, but the scenario is still confused," the Associated Press quoted Anne Sigmund of the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa as saying. "They don't say if the bomb was thrown from a moving car or a parked car. We're still investigating."
The soldiers involved in the bombing were assigned to escort a detachment of 160 soldiers in La Ceiba, most of them from Task Force 164 of the North Dakota National Guard. The unit is involved in a road-building exercise in the remote Yoro Valley.
The MPs were regular Army troops assigned to the 549th Military Police company based at the U.S. Southern Command in Panama.