Venezuela’s Maduro says drone blast was bid to kill him, blames Colombia

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a military event in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday, August 4, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 05 August 2018
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Venezuela’s Maduro says drone blast was bid to kill him, blames Colombia

  • A broadcast by Maduro was cut short during an outdoor speech at a military event in Caracas
  • The self-described “son” of Chavez, Maduro says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil

CARACAS: At least one explosion rocked a military event where Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was giving a speech on Saturday and the government said it was a failed assassination attempt involving drones carrying explosives.
Maduro said “everything points” to a right-wing plot that initial investigation suggested was linked to Colombia and the US state of Florida, where many Venezuelan exiles live. Several perpetrators were caught, he said, without elaborating.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said drones loaded with explosives detonated close to the military event in downtown Caracas. A Venezuelan who was visiting family nearby told Reuters she heard two explosions.
Maduro, a leftist who replaced President Hugo Chavez after his death in 2013, was unharmed but Rodriguez said seven National Guard soldiers were injured.
“This was an assassination attempt, they tried to assassinate me,” Maduro said in a later televised address.
A little-known group called the “National Movement of Soldiers in T-shirts” claimed responsibility for the attack. In a series of posts on social media, the group said it had planned to fly two drones but that snipers shot them down.
“We demonstrated that they are vulnerable. We didn’t have success today, but it’s just a question of time,” said the group, which says it was founded in 2014 to bring together all of Venezuela’s “groups of resistance.”
The group did not respond to several requests for information from Reuters.
Maduro won a new six-year term in May but his main rivals disavowed the election and alleged massive irregularities.
Venezuela is suffering under the fifth year of a severe economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration.
Maduro named Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as being behind the attack, but gave no evidence to back that up.
“The name of Juan Manuel Santos is behind this attack ... the initial investigations point to Bogota,” Maduro said.
A Colombian government source said Maduro’s allegation was “absurd” and that Santos was celebrating his granddaughter’s baptism on Saturday. “He is not thinking of anything else, least of all bringing down foreign governments,” the source said.
During the incident, Maduro was speaking about Venezuela’s economy in an address when audio of the live television coverage was suddenly cut off.
Maduro and others on the podium looked up startled and the cameras panned to soldiers who had been lined up in formation in the street. Scores of them ran in panic away from one area.
Photographs on social media appeared to show bodyguards shielding Maduro with black bulletproof panels. A photograph also showed an injured military official clutching his bloody head and being held up by colleagues.
OPEC member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.
The self-described “son” of Chavez, former bus driver Maduro says he is battling an “imperialist” plot to destroy socialism and take over Venezuela’s oil. Opponents accuse him of authoritarianism, saying he has destroyed a once-wealthy economy and ruthlessly crushed dissent.
Maduro said initial investigations indicated that “several of those intellectually responsible and the financiers of this attack live in the United States, in the state of Florida.” He called on US President Donald Trump to “fight these terrorist groups.”
A senior State Department official said: “We’ve heard the reports coming out of Venezuela. We are carefully following the situation.”
Last year, a rogue Venezuelan police officer hijacked a helicopter and fired at government buildings in what he said was an action against a dictator. The officer was hunted down and killed by Venezuelan forces.


Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

Updated 13 min 35 sec ago
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Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

  • Intelligence officers ignored warnings, says Islamic body
  • There have been reports of attacks on Muslim homes and businesses

COLOMBO: The people of Dharga Town, Sri Lanka, are familiar with violence and loss. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots killed four, injured dozens and left behind a trail of torched homes and businesses.
Now, almost a week after deadly terror attacks devastated the tropical island, the Muslims in Dharga Town are afraid following Daesh’s claim for the bombings.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about what they (the terrorists) are going to get from this. What have they gained? They’ve lost everything,” 38-year-old businessman M. Imthias told Arab News outside Meera Masjid. “We’ve already been through this, and we know the pain, fear, and emotions they (the Catholics) are going through.”
The Daesh claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic extremist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were thought to be behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. More than 350 people were killed and around 500 were wounded in the Easter Sunday violence.
Muslims in Dharga Town fear that efforts to rebuild after the 2014 violence are in vain. Anti-Muslim sentiments are emerging and are fueled by remarks from government officials, such as Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena saying the bombings were retaliation for last month’s New Zealand mosque bloodshed.
There have been reports of attacks on Muslim-owned shops, homes, and a mosque in Sri Lanka. There have also been renewed calls to ban the burqa, citing security reasons and Islamist extremism.
But there is also anger toward the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ), the group initially identified as being responsible for the attacks. Dharga Town residents told Arab News they believed the perpetrators carried out the attacks for personal reasons, not religious ones, as Islam forbids suicide.
The mood in the town is sombre. Shutters are drawn across windows and stores, including supermarkets, are closed. Men gather in small groups along the road, and the area has an increased military presence. People say perpetrators of the assault should face the death penalty.
Around 20 people in Dharga Town belong to the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaath (SLTJ), a faction unpopular with the wider Muslim community. Six SLTJ members were arrested on Tuesday afternoon. The mosque — a shack-like structure — did not open for prayers afterwards. Dharga Town residents opposed the SLTJ establishing a community in the area because of their orthodox ways.
“They wanted to build a mosque, but we didn’t allow it. In the end, they built that place with the iron sheets, and conduct their prayers there,” a village elder, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News. “If they come for prayers, or engage with us in anything, they always try to push their beliefs on us. What they call Islam is completely different from what we practice.”
The NTJ was ostracized by the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulema (ACJU), Sri Lanka’s highest body of Islamic scholars. The organization relayed its suspicions about the NTJ to authorities.
“On Jan. 3, we visited intelligence officers and handed over files with all the details of the perpetrators urging them to take necessary action to stop the NTJ. This was completely ignored,” an ACJU scholar said.
The situation in Sri Lanka remains tense, with nightly curfews and reports of bomb threats. There is also confusion after the Defense Ministry said the NTJ was not behind the attacks, leaving the public afraid about the possibility of another splinter group.
But there are calls for calm, too.
“There is no such anger among us,” Sister Manuja, who survived the St. Sebastian Church bombing, told Arab News. The Catholic community would not seek vengeance, she added. “We are very quiet, very simple people.”