Latest report from Caracas said the explosion that disrupted Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s speech on Saturday came from a drone and it was an apparent assassination attempt.
Caught by surprise mid-speech that was being transmitted live on TV, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up at the sky and winced after hearing the sound of an explosion pierce the air.
“This was an attempt to kill me,” he said later in an impassioned retelling of the events. “Today they attempted to assassinate me.”
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the incident took place shortly after 5:30 p.m. as Maduro was celebrating the National Guard’s 81st anniversary. The visibly shaken head of state said he saw a “flying device” that exploded before his eyes. He thought it might be a pyrotechnics display in honor of the event.
Within seconds, Maduro said he heard a second explosion and pandemonium ensued. Bodyguards escorted Maduro out of the event and television footage showed uniformed soldiers standing in formation quickly scattering from the scene.
He said the “far right” working in coordination with detractors in Bogota and Miami, including Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, were responsible. Some of the “material authors” of the apparent attack have been detained.
“The investigation will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “No matter who falls.”
Venezuela’s government routinely accuses opposition activists of plotting to attack and overthrow Maduro, a deeply unpopular leader who was recently elected to a new term in office in a vote decried by dozens of nations. Maduro has steadily moved to concentrate power as the nation reels from a crippling economic crisis.
In the midst of near-daily protests last year, a rogue police officer flew a stolen helicopter over the capital and launched grenades at several government buildings. Oscar Perez was later killed in a deadly gun battle after over six months on the lam.
Attorney General Tarek William Saab said the attempted assassination targeted not only Maduro, but rather the military’s entire high command on stage with the president.
Prosecutors have already launched their investigation and obtained critical details from the suspects in custody, said Saab, adding that he would give more details Monday.
Firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events. Three local authorities said there had been a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near Maduro’s speech where smoke could be seen streaming out of a window. They provided no further details on how they had reached that conclusion.
Adding to the confusion, a little known group calling itself Soldiers in T-shirts claimed responsibility, saying it planned to fly two drones loaded with explosives at the president, but government soldiers shot them down before reaching its target. The Associated Press could not independently verify the authenticity of the message.
“We showed that they are vulnerable,” the group said in a tweet. “It was not successful today, but it is just a matter of time.”
Images being shared on social media showed officers surrounding Maduro with what appeared to be a black bullet-proof barrier as they escorted him from the site. Maduro said at no point did he panic, confident the military would protect him.
“That drone came after me,” he said. “But there was a shield of love that always protects us. I’m sure I’ll live for many more years.”
*Reported by AP