Wednesday 22 August 2018

Venezuela ‘drone attack’: Six people arrested

Opposition leaders are warning Nicolas Maduro may use the ‘assassination attempt’ to further suppress his critics.

Nicolas Maduro delivers his speech as his wife Cilia Flores winces and looks up after being startled by an explosion, in Caraca (Venezolana de Television/AP)
Nicolas Maduro delivers his speech as his wife Cilia Flores winces and looks up after being startled by an explosion, in Caraca (Venezolana de Television/AP)

By Scott Smith and Christine Armario, Associated Press

Six people have been arrested suspected of using explosives-laden drones in a failed bid to assassinate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, according to officials in the country.

The government alleged that opposition factions conspired with assailants in Miami and Bogota, although they offered no specific evidence.

Opposition leaders decried Mr Maduro for broadly singling out his political opponents, and they warned he may use it to further suppress his critics.

The thwarted attack comes as Venezuela is reeling from a worsening economic and humanitarian crisis and Mr Maduro has grown increasingly isolated.

Foreign nations, including the United States, are slapping economic sanctions against a growing list of high-ranking officials and decrying his government as an autocratic regime.

The assailants flew two drones each packed with plastic explosives towards Mr Maduro, his wife and other top leaders as he spoke on Saturday evening at an event celebrating the 81st anniversary of the National Guard, said interior minister Nestor Reverol.

This was an attempt to kill me Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

One of the drones was to explode above the president while the other was to detonate directly in front of him, he added.

But the military managed to knock one of the drones off-course electronically and the other crashed into an apartment building two streets away from where Mr Maduro was speaking to the hundreds of troops, Mr Reverol said.

“We have six terrorists and assassins detained,” Mr Reverol said. “In the next hours there could be more arrests.”

Of those arrested, Mr Reverol said two had previous run-ins with the government, although he did not give their names or say what charges they faced.

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Venezuelan forces occupy Bolivar Avenue where the government said that a drone armed with explosives detonated (Fernando Llano/AP)

One took part in 2014 protests that rocked the nation as it descended into economic crisis. The other had a warrant out for his arrest for participating in an attack on a military barracks.

Defence minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez, appearing on state television, said the attackers were aiming to decapitate Venezuela’s entire top leadership along with Mr Maduro.

Investigators continued searching a blackened apartment building near the site while also seizing vehicles and raiding more than one hotel where they said they had found “film evidence”.

In an address to the nation on Saturday night, a visibly shaken Mr Maduro recalled seeing a “flying device” that exploded. He initially thought it might be a pyrotechnics display.

Within seconds, Mr Maduro said he heard a second blast and pandemonium broke out. Bodyguards escorted him from the event, covering him in black shields, and TV footage showed uniformed soldiers break formation and scatter.

“This was an attempt to kill me,” he said.

Press Association

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