A man in Chile died on Thursday after a homemade explosive device detonated as he allegedly carried it, a week after three people were arrested and charged with planting a series of homemade bombs in the capital city of Santiago.
Thursday's incident was the latest in a string of around 30 bombs reported this year in the capital alone. Police have not yet confirmed if the man, identified as 29-year-old Sergio Landskron Silva, was planning to plant the bomb in the immigrant-heavy Yungay neighborhood where it went off, or if he was possibly moving it elsewhere.
"I was at home, when all of a sudden I felt a very strong explosion. I took my camera and went outside," Edgar Lara, a man who filmed Landskron on fire after the bomb went off, told VICE News.
Witnesses said first-responder officials who arrived at the scene did not assist Landskron as he lay on the sidewalk engulfed in flames, due to fears he could have still been armed. Some neighbors tried to toss water and blankets in the man's direction anyway, reports said.
"He had another device, that's why nobody helped him," witness Ricardo Aravana told media outlets, explaining why bystanders and police did not intervene. "He had a ski mask and a bag."
The dead man's brother, Bastián Landskron, said during a radio interview that his sibling was a lifelong drug addict who had lived on the streets for years. Bastián added that while he was sure his brother is the man who died, he did not believe Sergio was guilty of any crime, and suggested he may have been an innocent victim.
Authorities have so far offered no evidence to link Sergio Landskron to anarchist cells in Chile — such as the group calling itself Conspiracy of Cells of Fire, which implicated itself last week in the September 8 subway shopping center bombing that rattled Santiago and left 14 people injured. But police said they would be investigating Landskron's death as a possible terrorism incident.
"I thought it was a trashcan, because at first he wasn't moving," said Lara, the neighbor. "Then all of a sudden, someone next to me said it was a person, and that's when I saw him move. The police told us that we couldn't get closer because there could be another bomb."
Soon after the explosion, an ambulance approached the site, but medical responders were held back by carabineros — Chile's national police force — and were unable to provide assistance as officials scanned the area for other threats, witnesses and media outlets said.
Mario Henríquez, director of the hospital where Landskron was taken, rejected the idea that the delay affected the man's outcome. The man's hand was amputated in the blast, and his skull fractured due to force of the impact, leading to exposed brain matter. He then spent several minutes in a fetal position, engulfed in flames, and according to Henríquez, was pronounced dead minutes after arriving at the central hospital.
"The wound alone was severe enough that when we got here and evaluated the patient's situation there was nothing to do for him," Henríquez said. "The doctors evaluated him and there was no possibility of operating."
The bombing further frightened Santiago. This month has seen dozens of false alarms and non-lethal explosive attacks that reached an unprecedented level when a homemade fire-extinguisher bomb hit just after 2pm on September 8 at the Escuela Militar station in the affluent Las Condes district.
"We have taken important steps in the last days to clear up these kinds of crimes, but we must keep working," said Chilean government minister Álvaro Elizalde. "In Chile there is no place for the planting of bombs, nor terrorist activity."
Thursday's fatality came just two days after formal charges were brought against the three suspects in the subway station bombing, one of the most devastating incidents of domestic terrorism seen in Chile since the era of the military dictatorship.
According to prosecutors, the suspects are facing up to five years in prison for each charge brought against them. Suspects Juan Flores Riquelme and Nataly Casanova Muñoz are behind bars awaiting trial, while Guillermo Durán Méndez is under house-arrest and has been prohibited from leaving the country. The judge decreed a 10-month period of investigation.
More than 200 explosives-related incidents have been reported in Chile since 2005 and the government has sought to strengthen its "anti-terrorist" law in response.
The anti-terrorist law is a constitutional exception held over from the days of Pinochet regime. Debate over its use and even legality has been intensifying in recent years after violent confrontations in indigenous Mapuche regions in southern Chile.
But the recent string of bombings and casualties in Santiago and other cities has pushed aside debate over the application of the law. Now, government leaders are calling for reforms to the law, mostly to toughen it. The director of Chile's national intelligence agency is asking President Michelle Bachelet to permit police to send undercover agents to investigate suspicious groups. No reforms have yet been passed.
Bachelet said on Thursday that terrorist intentions have not been confirmed in this week's case, but she did mention the uptick in bombings during a United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.
"This is a subject that we have discussed outside of Chile. I was asked about the situation with the bombings, and we explained that they were isolated acts — terrorist acts, but isolated," Bachelet said. "Chile is still a safe and stable country."
The death of Sergio Landskron is not the first linked to the bombing phenomenon in Chile. In 2009, a homemade explosive accidentally detonated in the backpack of 27-year-old Mauricio Morales, killing him. Morales's case was followed by 14 arrests and prosecutions under anti-terrorism laws, but all the cases fell apart except for one, leading critics to claim the government was profiling suspects for their political beliefs.
Follow Nicolás Riíos on Twitter @nicorios.