Two grenades were thrown at Venezuela’s Supreme Court from a hijacked police helicopter on Tuesday in a “terrorist and coup” attempt, President Nicolas Maduro said on national television.
The president, who has been facing months of violent anti-government protests, said he had activated an air defense plan against the helicopter, which also flew over the Interior Ministry.
Those responsible for the “terrorist attack on our institutions” would be caught “sooner rather than later,” he said, demanding that the opposition condemn the attack.
Two grenades were thrown, one of which did not explode, according to Maduro, who was speaking from Miraflores Palace, the Venezuelan president’s official home. There were no injuries.
The president said the pilot who hijacked the helicopter was linked to former interior minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, who Maduro said was part of a CIA-backed plot to overthrow him.
“What do you call the hijacking of a helicopter from a Venezuelan state institution which then throws grenades?” Maduro said. “Is it politics? It’s terrorism.”
Footage showed a man flying a helicopter belonging to the CICPC, Venezuela’s national police agency, and a second masked man holding a banner reading “Article 350. Liberty.”
The alleged pilot was identified by media as Oscar Perez.
He posted a series of video messages on Instagram in which he said he was part of a coalition of military, police and civilian officials and denounced the “corrupt government.”
“We have two choices,” he says, flanked by masked men holding machine guns. “To be judged tomorrow by our consciences and the people or to free ourselves from this corrupt government starting from today.”
His Instagram profile describes him as an investigator at CICPC, a K9 instructor and a pilot.
Earlier on Tuesday Maduro had threatened that he would resort to armed conflict to defend his socialist government.
“If Venezuela was plunged into chaos and violence and the Bolivarian Revolution was destroyed, then we would take up the fight,” he told supporters at a rally in Caracas.
While discussing his proposed constitutional reforms, which appear to be designed to strengthen his grip on power, Maduro said: “If we can’t do it with votes, then we will do it with weapons.”
Maduro, who says the opposition are conspiring with the United States to orchestrate a coup against him, wants to hold a vote on July 30 for the creation of a constituent assembly.
The president is hoping the new assembly will appease protesters, but his opponents say the move will transform the country into a dictatorship.
Venezuela has been hit by a months-long wave of violent protests triggered by a failed attempt by the Supreme Court, loyal to Maduro, to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its powers.
At least 77 people have been killed since the protests began in April.
The country has the world’s largest oil reserves but is facing the worst economic crisis in its history, with acute shortages of food and medicine. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting more than 1,600 percent inflation this year.