A week after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro consolidated his power following an internationally criticized referendum, armed rebels attacked a military base in the northern city of Valencia.
Roughly 20 armed men, dressed in camouflage, carried out a surprise assault on a military base Sunday morning, according to the BBC. Hours before the attack began, a video was posted to social media showing a group of uniformed men declaring themselves against Maduro’s “murderous tyranny.”
Seven men were arrested by forces backing Maduro; two were killed and one was injured. A manhunt is underway for the remaining rebels who fled after the strike failed.
On his Sunday TV show, Maduro characterized the attack on Valencia’s military base as a terrorist attack carried out by mercenaries. “I can’t describe it any other way. It’s a terrorist attack against the national armed forces,” said Maduro. “The armed forces reacted united and with morale and conviction.”
Rebels who released the video before Sunday’s attack adamantly declared that their action was not an attempted coup. “This is not a coup but a civil and military action to reestablish constitutional order,” said a man claiming to be Juan Caguaripano, who leads the rogue 41st Brigade.
Sunday’s attack marked the second incident during Venezuela’s intensifying anti-government protest in which an armed faction attempted to undermine Maduro’s growing power. At the end of June, a rogue intelligence agent commandeered a helicopter and attacked the Supreme Court and Interior Ministry building; there were no casualties.
Both events were quickly characterized as terrorist attacks by Maduro, leading some to suspect that the embattled leader had orchestrated such attacks to strengthen his power and discredit opponents. Similar theories were posited about Sunday’s attack.
Analysts questioned details of Sunday’s incident because it resembled another “attack” on the government from dissident army personnel in June. Rocio San Miguel, who studies the military in Venezuela, said in posts to her Twitter account that Caguaripano had escaped to Colombia several years ago. She also questioned why Cabello — one of Maduro’s closest allies — rather than the Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino provided details of the incident.
The Associated Press also noted that Caguaripano had previously denounced Maduro during 2014's anti-governement unrest in a 12 minute video, indicating uncertainty as to whether the man in the video is actually Caguaripano. As the newly released began to circulate during the attack, residents living near the base began to gather around its barricades chanting “Freedom!”
On Saturday, the newly inaugurated Constituent Assembly convened, which Maduro has employed to silence his opponents. After he dismissed the nation’s chief prosector Luisa Ortega Diaz, for her vocal criticism of his rule, Maduro compared her termination to Trump’s firing of acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
Here’s the full video of Caguaripano’s call for “legitimate rebellion” against Maduro: