Police kill five in shootout with Venezuela's 'James Bond'
Venezuelan authorities killed five militants and arrested five others during a shootout with a rogue helicopter pilot who bombed the government last year.
Oscar Perez, the leader of the militant cell who portrays himself as a James Bond-type figure on social media, appeared with a bloody face in nearly a dozen dramatic Instagram videos early yesterday. He claimed he was surrounded by authorities shooting at him with grenade launchers.
State TV said two police officers were gunned down in the clashes but there is no word on the fate of Perez.
A former police pilot, Perez is wanted for using a stolen helicopter to lob grenades and shoot at government buildings in June as well as for breaking into a National Guard unit in December to steal weapons.
President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government has described him as a "fanatic, extremist terrorist" and a manhunt has been under way for months. Some Maduro critics have questioned whether Perez's attacks were staged in cahoots with the government to justify a further crackdown on the opposition.
Authorities finally tracked Perez down in the poor hillside neighbourhood of El Junquito yesterday.
"We're wounded... they're killing us!" said Perez in one video, seemingly wearing a bulletproof vest as he crouched in what appeared to be a small house. Gunshots were heard in the background.
"Venezuela, don't lose hope... Now only you have power so that we can all be free," he said in an earlier video, staring into the camera and telling his children he loves them and hopes to see them again. A witness in the area later saw an ambulance speed by and said gunshots were no longer heard.
Members of Maduro's government scoffed at Perez.
"What a coward now that he's caught like a rat!" tweeted Prisons Minister Iris Varela. "Where is the courage he had to attack military units, kill and injure officials and steal weapons?"
Perez, who also has been an action film star and portrays himself as a James Bond or Rambo-like figure on social media, has added surreal twists to Venezuela's long-running political drama.
He rose to fame in June after allegedly hijacking a police helicopter, flying over Caracas' centre and firing shots at and lobbing grenades on the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court.
Perez claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was to fight what he said was a tyrannical government.