A clandestine group formed by Venezuelan military members opposed to the regime of Nicolás Maduro claimed responsibility for an alleged attack Saturday on the Venezuelan leader.
In a statement obtained by el Nuevo Herald, the group acknowledged the failure of what it called “The Phoenix Operation” action, which played out on state TV.
Maduro, who was giving a speech to members of the military, was whisked away from the event by his security team after two heavy explosions were heard.
“We are going to bet on the good of our country,” Maduro declared triumphantly moments before the sound of the explosions pierced the air. “The hour of the economy recovery has come.”
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Seconds later Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, looked up to the sky and winced.
Maduro said he is blaming far-right factions in Venezuela for what he described as an assassination attempt.
In an address to the nation later Saturday, Maduro said: “This was an attempt to kill me. Today they attempted to assassinate me.”
<FZ,1,0,11>Communication Minister Jorge Rodriguez said earlier in a televised message that the noises were caused by the detonation of “explosive devices” reportedly carried by drones but did not assign blame to any group.
Rodriguez said Maduro was not injured, but seven national guardsmen were wounded. The attack came as Maduro celebrated the National Guard’s 81st anniversary, said Rodriguez. Maduro’s speech was abruptly cut short and soldiers could be seen breaking ranks and scattering.
“At exactly 5:41 p.m. in the afternoon several explosions were heard,” Rodriguez said in a live address to the nation minutes after the incident. “The investigation clearly reveals they came from drone-like devices that carried explosives.”
But firefighters at the scene of the blast disputed the government’s version of events.
Three local authorities who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case said the incident was actually a gas tank explosion inside an apartment near the site of Maduro’s speech.
Smoke could be seen coming out a building window.
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.
The organization did not respond to a message from The Associated Press seeking more information.
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. The officer, Oscar Perez, was later killed in a deadly gun battle after over six months on the lam.
“The right insists on violence to take public spaces that they can’t win with votes,” Diosdado Cabello, a high-ranking socialist party leader, wrote on Twitter Saturday after the apparent assault, which he characterized as a “terrorist attack.”
Just after the explosions, the cameras turned to a wide shot of uniformed military officers standing at attention in neat lines as they broke rank and began running. The transmission then cut off.
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.
In the statement to el Nuevo, the group claiming responsibility said the military’s goals were not achieved.
“Today we continue our struggle, because the Bolivarian National Armed Forces function is to guarantee the independence, the sovereignty of the nation, territorial integrity and internal public order,” the group said.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.