A police helicopter launched a daring attack on the Venezuelan Supreme Court Tuesday, in a dramatic escalation of the months-long crisis engulfing the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
The helicopter was apparently stolen and piloted by an officer in the country’s investigative police force, Oscar Perez. As it strafed the court building and the Interior Ministry in Caracas, the attackers fired gunshots and lobbed grenades, officials said.
Maduro condemned the attack as an attempted coup, saying “terrorists” were behind the offensive and that an operation was underway to track the perpetrators down.
But much remained murky about the assault: if it was an attempt to unseat Maduro’s government, it was a spectacular failure. No-one was injured and one of the grenades failed to explode, government officials said.
It was unclear how a rogue police helicopter could have circled high-profile buildings in the Venezuelan capital without being shot down — eyewitnesses and local journalists say the assault went on for about two hours.
None of those involved in the attack appear to have been tracked down and the whereabouts of the helicopter remains unknown.
Earlier on Tuesday, Maduro appeared to foreshadow an uprising, saying that his supporters would be ready to take up arms if the “Bolivarian revolution” was threatened.
The attack came after months of protests against Maduro’s regime and ahead of a vote on July 30 to elect members of a controversial new body that could make changes to the country’s constitution.