A rebellious police officer who led a brazen attack in Caracas last year was among seven people killed in a shootout with armed forces, Venezuelan officials have confirmed.
Óscar Pérez – who has been on the run since stealing a helicopter and launching grenades at government buildings last year – was among those killed in the confrontation near Caracas on Monday, said interior minister, Nestor Reverol.
“The terrorist acts committed by this terrorist cell showed the destabilizing objectives that they were pursuing,” Reverol said.
Two police officers were killed and eight others gravely injured, he said.
“The members of this terrorist cell who conducted armed resistance were taken down and five criminals captured and detained,” the statement said.
President Nicolás Maduro in a televised address on Monday night claimed the group was preparing a car bomb to use against an embassy, without giving details.
Earlier on Monday, Pérez, 36, posted video clips showing blood dripping across his face as gunshots rang in the background. Pérez said officers were firing at the group and wanted to kill him instead of permitting his surrender.
“We’re going to turn ourselves in!” Pérez shouted.
He holed up with at least two other men in what appeared to be a home in mountains outside Caracas. He urged Venezuelans in the video clips to fight against the socialist government.
“I want to ask Venezuela not to lose heart – fight, take to the streets,” he said. “It is time for us to be free, and only you have the power now.”
Pérez leaped into the spotlight in June when he staged a dramatic helicopter attack in Caracas, lobbing grenades at the supreme court and interior ministry buildings in broad daylight. No one was injured and Pérez managed to flee before authorities swarmed in.
In numerous videos posted on Instagram, Pérez has claimed that he is fighting for Venezuela’s freedom from a tyrannical government that is starving its people. He now has tens of thousands of followers online and has piqued the curiosity of Venezuelans who either hail him as hero, condemn him as a criminal or question if he might be a ruse to support President Maduro’s assertion that the nation is under attack by conspirators.
Days after his brazen helicopter attack, Pérez rode into Caracas on a motorcycle and appeared at an anti-government protest. Near-daily demonstrations against Maduro’s rule over a four-month span last year left at least 120 people dead.
“It’s the zero hour,” Pérez said in a posting last July as several masked youths looked on. “The true way to pay respects to those who’ve died is for this dictatorship to fall.”
Adding to the intrigue was Pérez’s unusual past, which combined work as a highly trained officer, an action-movie actor, pilot and dog trainer.
In December, Pérez posted videos showing him and a small armed band taking over a military outpost and smashing a portrait of Maduro with his foot.
Maduro responded in the following days, vowing to meet Pérez with bullets.