CARACAS – Already strained political tensions in Venezuela threatened to sky-rocket on Wednesday, a day after the nation’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry offices were attacked with grenades and gunfire from a helicopter allegedly stolen by a mutinous police officer.
Venezuela’s government came out on Tuesday evening to denounce what it claimed was a terror attack and linked the alleged assailant, Oscar Perez – an officer with the air transport division of the country’s national police agency (CICPC) – to the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
Venezuelan Minister for Communications and Information Ernesto Villegas said the helicopter was stolen from the La Carlota military air base in Caracas and was used to fire 15 shots at the Interior Ministry, where a reception of around 80 people was being held on a terrace.
The minister said Perez then headed to the Supreme Court building, where he fired further shots and hurled “at least four grenades of Colombian origin and Israeli-make,” including one which did not explode.
Villegas claimed the attacks were part of an escalated coup attempt.
He also said Perez was being probed for purported links to the CIA, the US embassy and a former Venezuelan interior minister (in reference to Miguel Rodriguez Torres).
Villegas said the armed forces and security agencies were deployed to nab the perpetrator and recover the helicopter and urged citizens to inform authorities if they had any information on Perez’s whereabouts.
He also called upon the Venezuelan opposition and all the political factions of the country to resolutely condemn the attacks and any kind of violence and stressed no such incident could halt the convening of the National Constituent Assembly to draft a new legal framework.
A group of people on board a CICPC helicopter, allegedly led by Perez, flew over the top court premises in Caracas, with a banner exhorting “libertad” (Spanish word for freedom) for the country.
Later, the same officer appeared in an online video on his Instagram account, along with four other masked and uniformed people, and demanded President Nicolas Maduro’s resignation, while urging Venezuelans to go to each military base in the country.
He claimed an aerial and ground deployment was underway “to return power to the people” and help reestablish constitutional order.
Venezuela has been gripped by a months-long deadly wave of political protests.
Opponents have called for Maduro’s resignation, while the government has decried the situation as an attempted coup d’état.