Venezuelan authorities surround self-identified rogue helicopter pilot

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2018 9:03 AM

CARACAS (Reuters) - - Venezuelan officials closed in on self-identified rogue helicopter pilot Oscar Perez in a house in a poor neighborhood outside Caracas on Monday, and the anti-government militant said in a video that he was negotiating with authorities.

Perez, a former police pilot, is wanted for using a stolen helicopter to lob grenades and shoot at government buildings in June as well as for breaking into a National Guard unit in December to steal weapons. President Nicolas Maduro's leftist government has described him as a "fanatic, extremist terrorist" and a manhunt has been under way for months.

Authorities appeared to finally track him down in the poor hillside neighborhood of El Junquito.

"They've shot at us, they have us crouched down, but now we're negotiating with authorities," Perez, seemingly wearing a bulletproof jacket, said in a video posted on Instagram.

"Venezuela, don't lose hope... Now only you have power so that we can all be free," he added, staring into the camera and telling his children he loves them and hopes to see them again.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, some members of Maduro's government scoffed at Perez on Monday morning.

"What a coward now that he's caught like a rat!" tweeted Prisons Minister Iris Varela. "Where is the courage he had to attack military units, kill and injure officials and steal weapons?"

An action film star who portrays himself as a James Bond or Rambo-like figure on social media, Perez has added surreal twists to Venezuela's long-running political drama.

He rose to fame in June after allegedly hijacking a police helicopter, flying over Caracas' center and firing shots at and lobbing grenades on the Interior Ministry and the Supreme Court.

Perez claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was to fight what he said was a tyrannical government.

He went into hiding afterward, only to pop up two weeks later at an opposition vigil for anti-government protesters killed during demonstrations that rocked the country last year.

Then in December, a video posted on Perez's YouTube account shows armed, masked men taking control of military barracks under cover of night.

They smash photos of Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, handcuff around a dozen soldiers and berate them for supporting "dictatorship" in Venezuela. Perez says his team stole around 26 AK-103's and over 3,000 munitions for the rifles, as well as pistols.

(Additional reporting by Christian Veron; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Frances Kerry)