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February 20, 2018

Venezuela says rebel pilot killed in police operation

Venezuela says rebel pilot killed in police operation
'A screenshot taken from a handout video released by Anonymous Venezuela late on July 4, 2017 shows rebel helicopter pilot Oscar Perez, who the Venezuelan government says was killed in a shoot-out with security forces ' - By: ANONYMOUS VENEZUELA/AFP/File HO

Venezuela's government announced Tuesday that rebel pilot Oscar Perez was among seven "terrorists" killed during a bloody police assault to arrest him.

Police on Monday swooped on a house on the outskirts of Caracas where Perez and his armed group had holed up, setting off a fierce gunbattle in which two police officers were also killed.

Perez had been Venezuela's most-wanted man since he used a stolen helicopter to drop grenades on Venezuela's Supreme Court at the height of anti-government protests last June. President Nicolas Maduro accused him of attempting a "coup."

Interior Minister Nestor Reverol told reporters in Caracas that four men and two women arrested in the so-called Operation Gideon "are being prosecuted at this time."

Eight police officers were wounded in the battle, he said.

"The acts committed by this criminal gang qualify as terrorism, constituting clear and flagrant attacks against democratic institutions," said Reverol, who was flanked by senior military and police officers.

A bloodied Perez posted videos on Instagram during the gunbattle, saying he and his men wanted to surrender but were pinned down by snipers.

The government charged that his followers, who it said were armed with high-caliber weapons, "opened fire" on police during negotiations to surrender.

It said on Monday that those who resisted had been killed.

In June, Perez and unidentified accomplices flew over Caracas in a police helicopter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court before opening fire on the interior ministry. There were no casualties.

Perez had been on the run since Venezuelan authorities issued an arrest warrant through Interpol after accusing him of a "terrorist attack."

The 36-year-old former elite police officer and actor has regularly taunted the government during his time in hiding, saying he was fighting against Maduro's "tyranny" and the "narco-dictatorship."

He urged Venezuelans "not to lose heart. Fight, take to the streets, it is time we are free."

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