Venezuelan Officials Say President Nicolás Maduro Is Unharmed After Drone 'Attack'
Updated at 11:03 p.m. ET
Venezuelan officials say that President Nicolás Maduro has escaped an assassination attempt unharmed.
Maduro was giving a live televised speech in the capital city of Caracas on Saturday when, a government spokesman said, explosive-carrying drones went off near the president.
Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez called the incident an "attack" on the leader, reports The Associated Press, and said seven National Guard soldiers were injured.
Maduro had been addressing the national troops about the country's economy during an event the government says was meant to mark the 81st anniversary of the country's National Guard.
"At exactly 5:41 p.m. in the afternoon several explosions were heard," Rodriguez said, according to the AP translation, in a national address immediately following the incident. "The investigation clearly reveals they came from drone-like devices that carried explosives."
But, the wire service adds, firefighters at the site of the explosion are disputing the government's account of what it called an "attack."
Footage posted on Twitter by Venezuela channel NTN24 TV shows the moment the scene descended into chaos before the broadcast was cut off. Maduro is seen looking toward the sky in confusion. What looks to be hundreds of soldiers break formation before scattering.
Maduro blamed the alleged attack on far-right factions in Venezuela, in addition to the U.S. and Colombian governments, freelance reporter John Otis tells NPR.
"This was an assassination attempt, they tried to assassinate me," Maduro said in a televised address, later Saturday evening. Maduro named Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as being behind the attack, according to "initial investigations," without elaborating.
Reuters cites a Colombian government source as saying Maduro's allegation was "absurd" and that Santos was celebrating his granddaughter's baptism on Saturday. "He is not thinking of anything else, least of all bringing down foreign governments," the source said.
A little-known group called the "National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts" claimed responsibility for the attack. In a series of posts on social media, the group said it had planned to fly two drones but that snipers shot them down.
"We demonstrated that they are vulnerable. We didn't have success today, but it's just a question of time," said the group, which says it was founded in 2014 to bring together all of Venezuela's "groups of resistance."
Meanwhile, some opposition supporters condemned the attack, The New York Times reports. "This is not the way out of the Venezuelan crisis," Nicmer Evans, a political scientist aligned with the opposition, tells the paper. "No one wants the exit to be the death of someone to resolve this country's situation."
Saturday's alleged attack comes less than three months after Maduro won a second term as president in an election that his main rivals and independent observers say was marred by fraud.
Maduro, 55, succeeded Hugo Chavez when the longtime Venezuelan socialist died of cancer in 2013. Since taking power, Maduro has presided over a collapsing economy, hyperinflation, widespread hunger and a mass exodus of refugees seeking to escape dire conditions inside Venezuela.
Maduro's government was the target of an assault last June, when Óscar Pérez, a rogue pilot dropped grenades from a helicopter on the Venezuelan Supreme Court and fired on the Interior Ministry. One of Venezuela's most wanted men, Pérez died in January after government forces launched an attack on an alleged terrorist cell.
This is a developing story. Some things reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.
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