Two police officers were killed outside Caracas as security forces closed in on a rogue pilot and former policeman who stole a helicopter and bombed government buildings in an audacious stunt that inspired protesters across Venezuela.
Police traced Óscar Pérez to a run-down area near the capital on Monday after six months on the run following his air raid in June last year. According to the Ministry of the Interior and Justice, five members of the “terrorist cell” were arrested in a shootout that lasted several hours and left five injured.
Mr Pérez raised the alarm in typically dramatic fashion with a series of posts on Instagram showing him with a bloody face as he claimed to be under siege from regime forces.
He was cornered by special security forces in his hiding place in El Junquito, a poor area 25 km northwest of Caracas, according to Venezuelan authorities.
"They are firing at us with grenade launchers, we said we were going to surrender and they don’t want to let us surrender, they want to kill us" Mr Pérez said in one of the videos published online during the siege.
Diosdado Cabello, President Nicolás Maduro’s second in command, confirmed the gunfight on his Twitter account last night. “The terrorist Óscar Pérez and his band opened fire on the police, killing a policeman, wounding 10, three of them seriously” he wrote.
State television also confirmed the arrests, although Mr Pérez’s fate was last night unkonwn.
Mr Pérez, a former police pilot, has been missing since last June when he hijacked a police helicopter and tossed grenades on the Interior Ministry and Supreme Court. There were no injuries or fatalities.
He went into hiding immediately after the attack, but sent messages on social media calling for a rebellion against the government of President Maduro, whom he blames for the economic crisis that the country is facing.
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The attack occurred in the midst of a wave of protests against Mr Maduro’s as he dismantled the opposition-held legislative and replaced it with a puppet congress. The uprising left more than 100 dead last year.
Accused of terrorism, for months Mr Pérez was the subject of "wanted" posters pasted across Venezuela as authorities attempted to calm simmering tensions.
His group was also accused of breaking into a National Guard building on December 18 and stealing military weapons.
Mr Pérez’s last video was posted at around 10:30am, local time on Monday. Some local media outlets say he was killed during the operation but The Telegraph was unable to confirm the claims.
Aside from the five of Mr Pérez’s group who were arrested, authorities also said "criminals were killed", although the number of deaths was not confirmed.