A Venezuelan police helicopter strafed the Supreme Court and a government ministry on Tuesday, escalating the OPEC nation’s political crisis in what President Nicolas Maduro called an attack by “terrorists” seeking a coup.
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, officials said.
However, there were no reports of injuries.
“Sooner rather than later, we are going to capture the helicopter and those behind this armed terrorist attack against the institutions of the country,” Maduro said.
“They could have caused dozens of deaths,” he said.
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.
At least 75 people have died, and hundreds more been injured and arrested, in the anti-government unrest since April.
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.
Maduro says they are seeking a coup against him with the encouragement of a US government eager to gain control of Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world.
Venezuela’s government said in a communique the helicopter was stolen by investigative police pilot Oscar Perez, who declared himself in rebellion against Maduro.
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.
A video posted on Perez’ Instagram account around the same time showed him standing in front of…