BOGOTA, Colombia -- Gunmen invaded Colombia's Supreme Court building today and opened fire with machine guns at police outside, injuring one policeman and trapping some 500 judges and workers inside the building, police said.
Shooting could be heard in live radio reports transmitted from the Judicial Palace next to the Plaza Bolivar, Bogota's main plaza. The court building is located one block from the Presidential Palace.
Six tanks roared through Bogota past the United Press International office, apparently en route to the Judicial Palace from a nearby army base.
President Belisario Betancur called an emergency meeting with Interior Minister Jaime Castro and Foreign Minister Augusto Ramirez to study the situation.
A man identified as State Council Judge Fernando Gonzalez was among those trapped inside the building. 'I am on the floor talking to you,' he said in a telephone interview broadcast live on radio.
'I was on the second floor when we heard machine-gun fire and shouts on the first floor,' Gonzalez said. 'They say it is a guerrilla group but it is not known which one. It seems there are policemen who were killed.'
He said there were 400 to 500 judges and judicial employees in the building at the time of the attack. The palace houses the country's two highest courts, the Supreme Court and the so-called State Council.
Gonzalez compared the incident to the takeover of the Dominican Republic Embassy in Bogota in 1980 by the April 19th Movement, a left-wing guerrilla group.
The U.S. ambassador was among the diplomats taken hostage in that two-month siege, which ended when the rebels were allowed to fly to Cuba with an unspecified ransom.
Another judge, Carlos Betancur Jaramillo, said, 'Everthing was confusion. We heard the shots and we threw ourselves to the floor. We had to close the doors, but the gunfire continues.'
Police confirmed one policeman was injured but could not confirm a radio report that another man in civilian clothes was injured and rescued.
Another witness, identified as Maria Cristina, told radio reporters she had locked herself in her office in the court building and could hear the shooting.
'It's a tremendous shootout,' she said.
It was unclear if any court officials had been taken hostage.
The shooting began about 11:30 a.m. and police immediately cordoned off the area and evacuated nearby government and private offices.
Radio reports said the attackers were guerrillas but that it was not known which of several Colombian rebel group was responsible.
The Supreme Court has been repeatedly threatened in recent weeks, apparently by drug traffickers who want the court to declare unconstitutional an extradition treaty between Colombia and the United States.
Colombia has extradited six suspected drug traffickers to the United States.