Helicopter attacks Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice; Attorney General powers removed

A faction of the Venezuelan police allegedly attacked the country’s Supreme Court and other public buildings in Caracas on Tuesday, dropping grenades from a helicopter, government officials said. It was a rare uprising by government personnel in a country that has been on edge from mass protests and economic crises.

A video shot from a window and posted on Twitter shows a helicopter swooping in a circle around a building as explosions are heard. Another video posted on social media showed a uniformed man identified as Oscar Pérez, flanked by masked, heavily armed men in uniforms, taking responsibility for the operation. 

Pérez said he represented a coalition of military, police and civilian personnel who opposed what he called “this transitional, criminal government.” “We are nationalists, patriots and institutionalists,” the man said. “This fight is not against other state security forces. It is against the impunity imposed by this government. It is against tyranny. It is against the death of young people fighting for their legitimate rights.” 

No casualties were reported as a result of the assault and the attackers had not been found as of Tuesday night. 

In pictures of the helicopter attack that circulated online, Pérez appeared to be piloting the aircraft as a second man, in a balaclava, held a sign that said, “Art. 350, Libertad.” 

Experts said it was a reference to Article 350 of the Venezuelan Constitution, which encourages people to “disown any regime, legislation or authority that runs counter to democratic principles and guarantees, or that undermines human rights.” 

Elsewhere in Caracas, opposition members of the National Assembly said they were being besieged by armed government supporters. 

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro condemned the attack in a televised address, calling it part of a “coup plot.” He said the assailants had launched grenades, including one that did not explode, while a “social event” was taking place in the court complex. The gunmen fired from the helicopter into offices and then flew over the building, he said. 

Maduro added that “sooner or later, we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.” His remark suggested the assailants were at large and in control of the aircraft. 

In other news, the government-controlled Supreme Court issued three rulings eliminating Attorney General Luisa Ortega’s powers, transferring many of her office’s investigative abilities to Tarek Saab, a high-ranking official in Mr. Maduro’s party and the country’s Ombudsman. The move was seen at curbing the authority of Ortega, who has become famous during protests for openly opposing the president, the highest-ranking official to do so.