Police In Venezuela Say They've Destroyed A Terrorist Cell Authorities arrested five members of what they call a terrorist cell, and may have killed Oscar Perez, a self-proclaimed rogue helicopter pilot who tried to spark an uprising against President Maduro.
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Police In Venezuela Say They've Destroyed A Terrorist Cell

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Police In Venezuela Say They've Destroyed A Terrorist Cell

Police In Venezuela Say They've Destroyed A Terrorist Cell

Police In Venezuela Say They've Destroyed A Terrorist Cell

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/578247182/578247183" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Authorities arrested five members of what they call a terrorist cell, and may have killed Oscar Perez, a self-proclaimed rogue helicopter pilot who tried to spark an uprising against President Maduro.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Authorities in Venezuela say they have destroyed a plot against the president, Nicolas Maduro. In a bloody shootout, government forces attacked what they called a terror cell. Oscar Perez is believed to be among the casualties. He is a former police pilot and actor who urged Venezuelans to rise up against their government. Reporter John Otis has more.

JOHN OTIS: Oscar Perez had been Venezuela's most wanted man. He made headlines last year when he commandeered a police helicopter, flew over Caracas and, in broad daylight, dropped grenades on the Supreme Court building and fired on the Interior Ministry. A video of the attack was posted on YouTube.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

OTIS: Perez struck again in December. He led a group of armed men into a military barracks, where they tied up soldiers, stole rifles and smashed portraits of President Maduro. Perez's apparent goal was to spark a rebellion against Maduro. Besides cracking down on democratic freedoms, Maduro has led Venezuela into its worst economic crisis in modern history, marked by food shortages and hyperinflation.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "LLAMADO AL BRAVO PUEBLO DE VENEZUELA, A LA CALLE POR LA LIBERTAD")

OSCAR PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In a video released last month, Perez declared, "let's take to the streets to fight for our freedom." But while there have been outbreaks of looting and numerous anti-government protests, Venezuelans failed to rally behind Perez. Many simply didn't know what to make of him. Perez left the Venezuelan police force years ago to star in low-budget action films. He often portrayed himself in social media as a Rambo-like figure. Many considered his helicopter air raid a bizarre stunt. In fact, critics thought Perez might be working in cahoots with the government to justify a crackdown on the political opposition.

RICARDO SUCRE: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Via Skype, Caracas military analyst Ricardo Sucre says that a majority of Venezuelans want to get rid of Maduro, but through elections, not violence. The Maduro government's inability to capture Perez had been a huge embarrassment. But on Monday, police and army troops surrounded Perez's group at a safe house on the outskirts of Caracas.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

OTIS: During the ensuing shootout, Perez posted a video on Instagram in which he appeared to be bleeding from a head wound.

(SOUNDBITE OF INSTAGRAM VIDEO)

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

OTIS: "We have injured people here, but they keep shooting at us," Perez says. He then screams, "we are going to surrender. Stop shooting." Hours later, the government said that numerous gunmen had been captured or killed. Several media outlets reported that Perez was among the dead, but there was no official confirmation. Human rights activists complained that the rebels were given no chance to turn themselves in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VENEZUELA NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: However, President Maduro insisted that the police were negotiating surrender terms when Perez's men opened fire, leaving two officers dead and six wounded. In his televised speech, Maduro also issued a warning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MADURO: Todo el que entre por el camino del terrorismo...

OTIS: He said, "anyone who resorts to terrorism or takes up arms against the government and the people will be met by military force." For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATACOMBE'S "ZENITH")

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