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Venezuela arrests Guaido's top aide for leading 'terrorist cell'

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (C) leaves the residence of his "chief of staff" Roberto Marrero following his arrest in a raid on March 21, 2019 at his house in Caracas.

Venezuela has arrested a key aid to opposition figure Juan Guaido for leading a "terrorist cell" seeking to attack the government's leadership.

Intelligence officers detained Guaido’s "chief of staff", Roberto Marrero, in a predawn raid on his home, where they seized an arms cache and foreign cash, Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said.

The arrest prompted the US to threaten Caracas with "the toughest sanctions" ever.

In a televised speech, Reverol showed an image of two rifles that were found in Marrero’s place, saying he was “directly responsible for the organization” of criminal groups. 

“This citizen was seized with weapons of war and numerous foreign currency in cash,” Reverol said.

Marrero's bodyguard, Luis Paez, was also detained and faced the same charges and a search was on for "identified" collaborators, he added.

Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaido is seen as leaving the residence of Roberto Marrero, his "chief of staff", after he was detained in Caracas on March 21, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Shortly after their detention, President Nicolas Maduro said he would "not be afraid to fight terrorist groups to put them in jail."

Guaido, who heads the defunct National Assembly, pushed the country into a new political crisis in January, when he suddenly declared himself as “interim president” of Venezuela.

He was recognized by the US as well as some of its Latin American and European allies, ignoring the outcome of last year’s election, in which President Maduro emerged victorious.  

Guaido cried foul, describing the detention as a “vile, vulgar kidnapping."

“As they cannot arrest the interim president, they are looking to capture those closest to him.”

Guaido himself is accused in Venezuela of trying to foment a US-backed coup d’état against the Maduro government.

The detention also prompted reaction from Washington, which has repeatedly warned Maduro not to touch Guaido and his inner circle.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton called for Marrero’s immediate release.

"The United States condemns raids by Maduro's security services and detention of Roberto Marrero, Chief of Staff to Interim President @jguaido,” Pompeo wrote.

Bolton renewed his threats against the government in Venezuela, saying, "Maduro has made another big mistake.”

“The illegitimate arrest of Roberto Marrero, Interim President Juan Guaido's aide, will not go unanswered. He should be released immediately and his safety guaranteed.”

Bolton said the toughest sanctions are yet to come. “Unless Maduro’s usurpation ends, he and his cronies will be strangled financially.”

Maduro has repeatedly accused Washington of openly pushing for a coup in the oil-rich Latin American country. The US has already imposed economic sanctions on Venezuela and confiscated state oil assets based in the US to channel them to Guaido.

Caracas has accused Washington of waging an economic war, which has led to hyperinflation and widespread shortages of food and medicine in Venezuela.

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