Venezuela hunts for rebels behind army base attack
Caracas, Venezuela - Venezuela’s military on Monday hunted a group of ‘mercenaries’ who made off with weapons in an attack on an army base carried out against what they called the ‘murderous tyranny’ of President Nicolas Maduro.
Around 20 men led by a dissident army officer, who deserted several years ago, battled troops for three hours early on Sunday at the base in the city of Valencia, officials said.
The raid ended with two of the attackers killed and eight captured, Maduro said on state television.
The other ten escaped with weapons taken from the facility, according to officials who said an ‘intense search’ was underway for them.
Maduro claimed the ‘terrorist’ group had ties to Colombia and the United States.
The incident heightened fears that Venezuela’s intensifying political and economic crisis could explode into greater violence, perhaps open armed conflict.
Officials insisted afterward that all was normal across the country, but social networks were full of discussion about the attack, with speculation that it was carried out by former Venezuelan soldiers.
The armed forces said in a statement the base was assaulted by ‘a group of civilian criminals wearing military uniforms and a first lieutenant who had deserted’.
Maduro said the lieutenant was among those captured, and was ‘actively giving information and we have testimony from seven of the civilians’.
Maduro praised the army for its ‘immediate reaction’ in putting down the attack.
Venezuela’s opposition has repeatedly urged the military to abandon Maduro.
But Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino, the head of the armed forces, has said the military’s loyalty was unshakable.
This file photo shows firefighters dousing the fire on a police booth set ablaze by opposition demonstrators, in Caracas on July 20