CARACAS – Venezuela’s Supreme Court Wednesday came under an attack by grenades dropped from a helicopter in what President Nicolas Maduro called an attack by “terrorists” seeking a coup.
Reports in local media suggested the aircraft fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry, where scores of people were at a social event, and dropped four grenades on the court, where judges were meeting.
However, there were no reports of injuries.
Footage on social media shows a police helicopter circling over the city before shots and a loud bang are heard.
Venezuela’s government said in a communique the helicopter was stolen by investigative police pilot Oscar Perez, who declared himself in rebellion against Maduro. His whereabouts are unknown.
Images shared on social and local media appear to show Perez waving a banner from the helicopter reading “Liberty”, and the number “350” in large letters.
The number refers to the constitutional article allowing people the right to oppose an undemocratic government.
Military on alert
The Supreme Court is regularly criticised by the Venezuelan opposition for its rulings which bolster Mr. Maduro’s hold on power.
In an address from the presidential palace, President Maduro said the helicopter had flown over the Supreme Court and also the justice and interior ministries.
The president has placed the military on alert.
“I have activated the entire armed forces to defend the peace,” he said. “Sooner or later, we are going to capture that helicopter and those who carried out this terror attack.”
Who was the pilot?
The police officer identified himself as Oscar Pérez in video statements posted on the social media platform Instagram.
Appearing in military fatigues and flanked by armed, masked men in uniform, he appealed to Venezuelans to oppose “tyranny”.
Local media also linked Perez to a 2015 action film, Suspended Death, which he co-produced and starred in as an intelligence agent rescuing a kidnapped businessman.
The helicopter attack, first of its kind since the protests against the socialist government turned violent, comes after mass protests against the political and economic crisis.
Demonstrators are demanding general elections, measures to alleviate a brutal economic crisis, freedom for hundreds of jailed opposition activists, and independence for the opposition-controlled National Assembly legislature.
The 54-year-old socialist leader has faced three months of protests from opposition leaders who decry him as a dictator who has wrecked a once-prosperous economy. There has been growing dissent too from within government and the security forces.
Mr. Maduro says they are seeking a coup against him with the encouragement of a U.S. government eager to gain control of Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world.
At least 75 people have died, and hundreds more been injured and arrested, in the anti-government unrest since April.