Venezuelan special forces on Monday captured five members of a band led by a rebel police officer who has been on the run for six months.
The capture followed a deadly early-morning assault in a village outside Caracas that ended with at least two officers killed and five injured, the government reported.
It was not clear if the rebel group’s leader Óscar Pérez survived the assault, but CNN reported — citing a high government source — that he had been killed.
“The former policeman died in a shootout with the Venezuelan National Police Monday morning,” the source, who spoke under condition of anonymity, told CNN.
Previously, the Ministry of Interior reported that “the members of this terrorist cell who conducted armed resistance were taken down and five criminals captured and detained.”
The assault was made public early Monday by Pérez himself, who posted video snippets on social media, including one in which he appears with a bloodied face.
“They are firing at us with RPG, grenades and grenade launchers, snipers,” Pérez says in one video. “There are civilians in here. We told them that we’re going to turn ourselves in and they don’t want to let us surrender. They want to kill us.”
Pérez — a former police officer who says he’s a fighter against the Nicolás Maduro regime — is wanted by the government for an attack he led from a stolen police helicopter against the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry headquarters in Caracas.
By midday Monday, the government announced that Pérez and other “terrorists” had been captured following a deadly gunfire exchange at a village outside the capital that killed at least one government officer and injured as many as 10 others.
“The terrorist Oscar Pérez attacked those around him,” socialist party leader Diosdado Cabello posted on Twitter. “Security forces returned fire.”
In the first of several videos released via social media Monday morning, Pérez announced that he and a small group of men were still alive, despite the early-morning assault.
“Here we are, here we are, alive and well, the whole team, we are on the new Junquito road (on the outskirts of Caracas), the whole team,” he said. “Here come the government people. We are surrounded. Information on our whereabouts was leaked, but the battle for the homeland continues.
“For those who had doubts that we are fighting, they have fired at us, we are crouched, but we are already negotiating with the officials, the prosecutors,” Pérez continued in the video, in which he also asks Venezuelans not to lose hope and to fight for freedom.
At least one other man appears with Pérez carrying assault rifles.
About a half-hour after the first video made its rounds on social media, a second video circulated showing Pérez with a bloodied face. Meanwhile, Pérez’s mother issued a plea to the Maduro government to allow her son to surrender.
“He is trying to give himself up and they will not let him in. Let him surrender,” Aminta Pérez said in a third video. “Spare his life. If anything happens to him, you will be responsible.”
Penitentiary Service Minister María Iris Varela also took to Twitter on Monday to defend the assault: “Oscar Pérez , now comes the show of tears. How cowardly he looks trapped like a rat! Where was his courage to hold up military units, killing and wounding officials and stealing weapons? … Those bandits must contend with the new regime.”
The 36-year-old Óscar Pérez rose to notoriety in July 2017 when, amid anti-government protests that left more than 100 dead in Venezuela, he launched several grenades from a stolen police helicopter aimed at two government buildings in Caracas.
No one was injured and the building suffered minor damage, but his name became known to the people — and to authorities. He has since been a fugitive.
Pérez has used social media to call on Venezuelans to rise up against the Maduro government. He has published several videos stating that his fight is for his children and “all the children” of Venezuela.
In addition to being a trained officer, Pérez is an actor, pilot and dog trainer. Many within Venezuela have cast doubt on the legitimacy of his attacks, seeing them as a potential ruse to support Maduro’s assertion the nation is regularly assaulted by opposition conspirators, though some friends have spoken in his defense.
Pérez appeared in online videos in December showing him and a small armed band taking over a small military outpost and smashing a portrait of Maduro with his foot.
Pérez and the assailants berated several detained guardsmen for doing nothing to help their fellow citizens suffering from hunger. Maduro responded in the following days, vowing to meet Pérez with bullets.
This article was supplemented with information from The Associated Press and other el Nuevo Herald wire services.
Follow Antonio María Delgado on Twitter:@DelgadoAntonioM