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Tue, 12 Nov 2019 23:50 GMT

Venezuelan Authorities Hunt Assailants, Six Detained


7Dnews London

Mon, 06 Aug 2018 15:49 GMT

The Venezuelan authorities are hunting those behind the failed assassination attempt on the country’s President Nicolas Maduro.

Unknown assailants flew bomb-laden drones towards the president with the aim of detonating the explosives close to the president and killing him. The plan was unsuccessful, and Maduro escaped unharmed.

Six suspects are currently being detained and interrogated by the authorities. As part of the investigation into the incident, hotels have been raided and cars have been seized. 

Venezuela's socialist government claimed on Sunday that the detained suspects had conspired with others in Miami and the capital of neighbouring Colombia though no specific evidence has been presented to support such claims. Opposition leaders have criticised Maduro for singling out his political opponents. They have since warned that the president may try to use the incident as an excuse to further suppress his critics.

The attack came at a time when Venezuela is reeling from an economic and humanitarian crisis. As a result, Maduro has grown increasingly isolated. Foreign nations, including the United States, are slapping economic sanctions on a growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials. The US, along with some other countries, has described the Maduro government as an autocratic regime. 

Maduro and his allies have called the attack direct proof of an international plot to overthrow his socialist administration. They do, however, point out that the military’s response to the attempt on the president’s life is indicative of the fact that Maduro still has the loyalty of the soldiers. 

Some analysts believe the attack, which was caught on live television, appears to make Maduro appear vulnerable. 

"Seeing trained soldiers fleeing in apparent panic and disarray before an explosion strongly contrasts with the idea of monolithic control and loyalty of security forces that Maduro prides himself on," said the New York-based Torino Capital investment firm. 

Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez said the attackers were trying to wipe out Venezuela's entire top leadership, along with Maduro. 

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said two drones, each packed with a kilogram of C-4 plastic explosive, were flown towards Maduro, his wife and other top leaders. The president was addressing hundreds of troops at the 81st anniversary of the National Guard.  

One of the drones was supposed to explode above Maduro, while the second drone was meant to be detonated directly in front of the president, said Reverol.

 According to Reverol, the military managed to knock one of the drones off course electronically and the other craft crashed into an apartment building two blocks away. 

"We have six terrorists and assassins detained," he said. "In the next hours there could be more arrests." 

Two of those arrested have had previous run-ins with the government, although Reverol declined to release their names. He said one of the suspects had taken part in the 2014 anti-government protests. The crisis is currently worse than the Great Depression.  

Another of those arrested had a warrant out for his arrest for participating in an attack on a military barracks, said the interior minister.

Investigators are still searching through the burnt apartment building next to the site of the speech. Officers have also raided six hotels, where some of the suspects were arrested and "film" evidence was collected. Officials gave no further details. 

Two witnesses, living in nearby apartment buildings, said they saw a drone hovering over a residential street on Saturday evening before hearing an explosion. 

One witness showed AP cellphone video of a drone crashing into a building. He said the drone fell to the ground and exploded, igniting a fire in an apartment. 

Another witness, Mairum Gonzalez, described running in panic to her fifth-floor balcony, where she heard the second explosion and saw smoke rising. 

"It was so strong the building shook," she said. "It terrified me." 

Maduro addressed the nation later on Saturday night, whenhe blamed the attack on the far right. He also called on President Trump to hold the “terrorist group” accountable. 

Appearing on "Fox News Sunday", Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said: "If the government of Venezuela has hard information that they want to present to us that would show a potential violation of US criminal law, we'll take a serious look at it." 

The Broad Front, a coalition of opposition groups in Venezuela, has accused the government of making an allegation without proof. 

"It's evident that the initial reaction of the government isn't aimed at attempting to clarify what happened but rather to take advantage of the situation and irresponsibly and sweepingly attack the 'opposition,'" the group said in a statement. 

A group with the name Soldiers in T-shirts has come forward to claim responsibility for the attack. Little is known about the group. In a statement, the group said it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president but soldiers shot the drones down. The authenticity of the message could not be independently verified, and did not respond to a message from AP. 

"It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time," the group said in a tweet. 

Venezuela's government has routinely accused opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Maduro.  

The current president, who was once a bus driver, has steadily consolidated his power even as the nation struggles to reverse the hyperinflation that has gripped its economy. International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation could top one million percent by the end of the year.

Maduro said the attack had left him convinced of the military's support. He went on to say that he remained undeterred in carrying forward the socialist revolution begun by the late Hugo Chavez. 

"Venezuela will continue on the democratic, independent and socialist path," Maduro said. 

According to AP, analysts believe Maduro still holds the military's support. Analysts also believe, however, that the attack will prove to be an embarrassment for a government that prides itself on control and invincibility. 

"We continue to hold as our scenario one in which Maduro remains in power for coming years," Torino Capital said in its analysis. "However, given the regime's unpopularity and the depth of the country's economic crisis, we believe it is important to monitor events that can become catalysts for broader protest movements leading to regime change." 

Latin America