El Salvador says it foiled a plot to plant bombs on the day of President Bukele's inauguration

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) — El Salvador said authorities have broken up a plot to plant bombs around the country to coincide with President Nayib Bukele’s inauguration on Saturday.

The country’s National Police said the plot involved “veterans” of the country’s 1980-1992 civil war, an apparent reference to former leftist guerillas.

Police posted photos of small cylinders of explosives with fuses and sacks of ammonium nitrate on the force’s social media accounts. It said the explosives had been seized in raids, and that the plot supposedly was going to target gasoline stations, supermarkets and government buildings.

It said some of the explosives were found in a raid on a former rebel stronghold, Guazapa, on the outskirts of San Salvador, the capital.

Police blamed a shadowy force it called the “Salvadoran Insurrection Brigade” for the plot, and former congressman José Santos Melara of the leftist FMLN party — formed by former guerrillas — had been detained and was “the one who financed these plans.”

Melara is the leader of the national association of FMLN Veterans of the war. At least seven other suspects were also detained.

The Block of Popular Resistance and Rebellion — known as the BPR for its initials in Spanish — issued a statement saying Melara’s arrest “is arbitrary and is an act of political persecution.”

The group demanded his release, and said “we do not recognize the unconstitutional and illegitimate president who will take office on June 1.” It said it would “start an new stage of struggle in the face of Bukele’s imposition as president.”

In February, the highly popular Bukele easily won a second term in his country’s presidential elections, despite the country’s constitution prohibiting reelection.

He has sparked criticism for his anti-gang raids and mass arrests, but the supposed bomb plot may have involved the terms of the 1992 peace accords that ended the civil war and guaranteed former rebels a place in politics.

Bukele has made some moves that critics say endanger the Central American nation’s fragile democracy, which was restored after the brutal civil war.

In addition to going after critics and locking up 1% of his country’s population in his gang crackdown, the leader last year also approved reforms slashing the number of seats in Congress, effectively weighting upcoming elections in his party’s favor.

While it has involved allegations of abuse and unjust imprisonment, the gang crackdown has made Bukele popular; the country’s street gangs once essentially ruled many neighborhoods with brutality, killing and extorting money from almost everyone.

Bukele not only won reelection. His party also won a super majority in Congress, effectively allowing him to rule with few checks on his power.