Venezuela says five members of a “terrorist cell” linked to a police pilot who has defected and who attacked the country’s Supreme Court during anti-government unrest last year, have been arrested and several others have been killed in an operation.
The Venezuelan Interior Ministry said in a statement on Monday that the individuals had been killed in a shootout that erupted as Venezuelan authorities launched an operation to arrest the pilot, Oscar Perez.
“These terrorists, who were heavily armed with high-caliber weapons, opened fire on the officials responsible for their capture,” the statement said.
It did not specify how many people were killed but said two police officers were among them. It was also not clear whether Perez himself had been killed or captured.
Back in June 2017, and at the height of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, Perez and unidentified accomplices used a police helicopter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court building in Caracas before opening fire on the Interior Ministry headquarters.
The 36-year-old former elite police officer and actor has been on the run since the Venezuelan government accused him of a “terrorist attack” and issued an Interpol alert demanding his arrest.
The ministry said the police were “attacked violently” when they were negotiating the surrender of Perez’s group. It said they also “tried to detonate a vehicle loaded with explosives.”
Earlier in the day, Perez appeared with a bloody face in nearly a dozen dramatic videos posted online, saying that he and his group had been surrounded by forces shooting at him with grenade launchers.
“They are firing at us with grenade launchers. We said we are going to surrender but they do not want to let us surrender. They want to kill us,” he claimed.
Vice president of the ruling Socialist party, Diosdado Cabello, said on Twitter the Police Special Action Force (FAES) had “responded with fire” when two officers were injured in the operation.
In December, Perez claimed responsibility for an assault on a military post near the capital, Caracas, in which a small amount of weapons were stolen.
Venezuela last year witnessed unrest over political disagreements between the government and opposition as well as over an economic crisis. Some 125 people from both the government and opposition camps were killed in the violence.