Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro has confirmed that two hand grenades were launched at the supreme court building on Tuesday evening from a helicopter. He said the helicopter was piloted by an agent from the country’s intelligence unit who then managed to escape.
Videos circulated on social media showed a man piloting the helicopter while holding a banner that read “Liberty. Article 350”, in reference to an article in the Venezuelan constitution that allows for citizens to declare themselves in civil disobedience in front of “any regime that runs counter to democratic guarantees or undermines human rights”.
The incident took place just hours after Maduro warned that he and his supporters would be willing to take up arms if his government was toppled by “undemocratic forces”.
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Local media quoted witness accounts describing what they said had sounded like an exchange of fire between guards at the supreme court building and the helicopter. Maduro referred to the incident as an “act of terrorism”, and called on his supporters to activate a “new phase in the revolution” should anything happen to him.
According to Venezuelan daily El Nacional, the man who piloted the helicopter is Oscar Pérez, a former captain in the CICPC, Venezuela’s intelligence and investigative body. In a video released on social media, Pérez speaks directly to a camera flanked by four masked men wielding what appear to be assault rifles.
“Venezuelans, dear brothers, we talk to you on behalf of the state. We are a coalition of military, police and civilians in search of an equilibrium and against this transitory, criminal government,”Pérez said. “We have two choices: be judged tomorrow by our conscience and the people or begin today to free ourselves from this corrupt government.”
Perez claims to have no political affiliation. In a second video, he pointed to a purple ribbon tied around his left arm and says his allegiance is to “the truth and to Christ” According to his Instagram profile, Perez is a crime units investigator, a pilot and a K9 instructor.
Maduro, speaking on state TV, said the grenades did not explode and Venezuelan special forces were searching for the “terrorists” behind the attack.
Maduro added: “I demand that the MUD [opposition coalition] condemns this eminently coup-mongering attack … It could have caused a tragedy with several dozen dead and injured.”
Later, information minister Ernesto Villegas read a statement accusing the helicopter of firing 15 shots against the interior ministry as a reception was taking place for 80 people. It then flew a short distance to the government-stacked supreme court, which was in session, and launched what he said were four Israeli-made grenades of “Colombian origin”, two of them against national guardsmen protecting the building.