At least three women were killed and nine wounded after an explosive device went off in a toilet in a busy shopping centre in Colombia's capital, Bogota, officials say.

The Andino shopping centre in an exclusive area of Bogota was evacuated after the blast, which occurred around 5pm local time (22:00 GMT) on Saturday in the women's toilet.

The commercial centre was packed with people buying gifts in advance of Father's Day celebrations on Sunday.

Police said the device was placed in a toilet bowl in the second-floor restroom.

Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa denounced the attack.

"We regret dearly this cowardly terrorist bombing and we are pained by the victims," he said.

One of the victims was a 23-year-old French woman who had been volunteering in a poor area of the city, Penalosa said.

Streets surrounding the shopping centre were closed and buildings evacuated by police as ambulances raced to the scene and security officials tried to establish who was responsible for the blast.

"I was taking care of a customer when I heard the explosion," said one shopping centre employee.

"They told everyone to evacuate and then we found out that a person had been killed and several others injured."

Bomb squad specialists combed the area in a search for additional devices.

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Photographs on social media showed a woman slumped against the wall with a pool of blood around her and what appeared to be a large shard of metal piercing her back.

Another image showed the destroyed toilet cubicle with a blood-splattered handrail and debris strewn all over the floor.

President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered an investigation into the incident.

"We won't let terrorism frighten us," Santos said from inside the shopping centre.

"Bogotanos should feel safe and protected. We won't let our guard down but we must not panic. That's what terrorists want."

Security situation

Security has improved in Bogota over the past decade as police and military increased surveillance and put more armed officials on the streets.

At one time, all bags were checked at the entrance to shopping centres, but that has been vastly scaled back in recent years.

Sniffer dogs still check cars at parking facilities in Bogota.

A peace accord signed last year with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest guerrilla group, raised confidence that bomb attacks might cease.

 

The country's second-largest armed group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, detonated a device in Bogota that injured dozens of police in February.

The ELN, a Marxist group currently negotiating peace with the government, denied any involvement in a tweet and condemned the attack against civilians.

Authorities said there have been threats of attacks in Bogota by the so-called Gulf Clan, a group of former right-wing paramilitary fighters who traffic drugs.

Source: News agencies