Updated at 3:15 p.m. ET
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is describing Tuesday’s helicopter assault on the country’s Supreme Court and Interior Ministry as a terrorist attack.
But there’s a lot of confusion about who was behind the dramatic incident in the capital Caracas, with opponents of the president suggesting that it may have been staged.
“Maduro’s saying this was part of an attempted coup encouraged by the U.S. His officials claim the stolen helicopter fired 15 shots at the Interior Ministry,” NPR’s Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro.
“Then it flew to the nearby Supreme Court — which was in session — and attacked it with four grenades,” Philip adds. Nobody was injured, he says, and it’s not clear how many of those grenades actually went off.
At the time of the attack, the government says the Interior Ministry was hosting a reception, according to The Associated Press. Video posted on social media shows dramatic scenes of the helicopter circling, amid the sound of loud blasts.
The pilot escaped in the copter. President Maduro said “sooner or later, we will capture the helicopter and those who have committed this armed attack.”
The government says the pilot is a man named Oscar Perez, a longtime member of the country’s forensic police force, according to the BBC.
He is also a movie actor, who appeared in a 2015 action film called Suspended Death. The broadcaster cites a promotional interview in which Perez says, “I am a helicopter pilot, a combat diver and a free parachutist. I am also a father, a companion and an actor,” Perez said. “I am a man who goes out without knowing if he will return home because death is part of evolution.”
Perez apparent involvement in the assault was highlighted on social media, as Philip reports:
“Images appeared on social media that seem to show Perez in a police chopper waving a banner bearing the word Liberty. There’s also a video showing him in front of several hooded armed men, saying an operation’s begun to restore democracy.”
Some social media users pointed out that three of the four hooded and armed men in the video do not seem to move, raising questions about whether they are dolls or even painted onto the background.
And as The Associated Press reported, despite the video’s claims about the start of an operation, “there was no sign of any other police or troops taking part.”
The country has been roiled by months of protests against Maduro’s leadership, as the president continues to push forward with his plan to rewrite the Constitution.
The wire service adds that “many of Maduro’s opponents took to social media to accuse the president of orchestrating an elaborate ruse to justify a crackdown against those seeking to block his plans to rewrite the constitution.”
The Wall Street Journal reports:
“The plan for a new constitution, which has helped fuel deepening unrest, is highly unpopular as it would usurp what few legal avenues of dissent are left to the country’s beleaguered opposition.
“About 80 people have died in three months of constant protests against the embattled president, who has been unable to stop an economic free fall that has seen the economy nearly collapse, with inflation rising to 700 percent while food and medicine have become scarce.”
The helicopter incident capped a particularly volatile 24 hours that began with widespread looting in the coastal city of Maracay, which is about a 90 minute drive from Caracas.
The looting in Maracay began Monday night and continued Tuesday when opposition lawmakers got into a heated scuffle with security forces assigned to protect the National Assembly.