Venezuela: Terrorist Cell Led by Fugitive Oscar Perez Dismantled

Venezuelan authorities confirmed that several members of the insurgent group and two police officers were killed during a shoot-out Monday morning.

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas
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The leader of the cell, Oscar Perez, published a series of videos on social media during the confrontation. (Reuters)
The leader of the cell, Oscar Perez, published a series of videos on social media during the confrontation. (Reuters)

Bogota, January 15 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) - Venezuela’s Ministry of Justice has confirmed that an anti-government terrorist cell led by fugitive Oscar Perez was dismantled by security forces this Monday during a lengthy and bloody siege.

In an official statement released Monday afternoon, the ministry affirms that two police officers and an as of yet unknown number of armed insurgents were killed in a shoot-out between the FAES special police force and the insurgent group earlier in the day. Five members of the cell were also captured and arrested by security forces, according to the ministry.

“The Ministry for Interior Relations, Justice and Peace of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, informs today, January 15 2018, that a dangerous terrorist group was dismantled after a confrontation with security forces,” reads the statement.

The shoot-out follows a eight-month long manhunt for Perez, who had previously headed a series of armed attacks on government institutions.

As a former officer and pilot with Venezuela’s CICPC forensic police force and part-time amateur action-movie actor, Perez grabbed international headlines in June 2017 after commandeering a CICPC helicopter and using it to attack the Justice Ministry and Supreme Court with grenades.

In December, he also led an armed assault on military barracks in Miranda state, in which he and a team of masked men stole more than 25 AKA 103’s, pistols, and 3000 pieces of ammunition. During the attack, Perez and his men smashed pictures of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro, and handcuffed several soldiers. The group claimed to represent God and the nation, and said they were fighting an unjust and authoritarian government.

Despite having eluded authorities for several months, on Monday morning, Venezuelan news agencies reported that security forces had finally located and surrounded Perez and his men on the upper floor of a house in rural El Junquito, just outside of Caracas.

Throughout the morning, Perez released several dramatic videos from inside the besieged house, partially documenting the confrontation. In an earlier video, the former pilot states that the men are negotiating their surrender with authorities, and says that they are “here, fighting” for the future of Venezuela. However, later on the former pilot appears in several videos with a bloodied face, claiming that authorities were continuing to open fire and throw grenades at the men despite their attempts to surrender. He also calls on Venezuelans nearby to come out in protest in their defense.

“Don’t shoot! We’re wounded. There are civilians here, women and children,” he shouts, as gunfire is heard in the background. 

No women or children can be seen in any of the videos posted by Perez, though it is unclear whether they were present in other parts of the premises.

Nonetheless, the government’s statement conflicts with Perez’s version of events. According to the Ministry of Justice, authorities returned fire against the insurgents after they broke negotiations, shooting at police and attempting to detonate a car bomb on the ground below, ultimately killing two officers and wounding five more. 

“These terrorists, who were heavily armed with high calibre weapons, opened fire against the officials responsible for their capture, and tried to detonate a vehicle in which explosives had been planted, with the regrettable result that two Bolivarian National Police officers died, and five were seriously injured,” reads the statement.

“The members of this terrorist cell which engaged in armed resistance were killed,” it continues.

In a video recording of an exchange between the police and the insurgents earlier on, Perez can be heard trying to convince officers to join the cause to depose the national government.

“Brother, we have a chance to make a change,” he is heard saying, addressing the officer through a window.

Meanwhile the officer compels Perez to hand himself over, telling the men that he is “here to fulfil an order” and that he did not want to call on the national guard.

"The president's orders are to preserve your lives," says the officer. 

In a video published on twitter by Venezuelan new source, Iguana.TV, there was visible fire from both sides of the confrontation.

According to the ministry, Perez and his group of insurgents had also planned to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in order to topple the government, including planting car bombs in public places.

Though the fate of Perez remains unknown, CNN reported that an anonymous top government official had informed the news agency that he had been killed in the confrontation.