In brief: Using drones for illegal activities is nothing new, but this weekend may have seen UAVs used in an attempted crime on a whole different level. Nicolás Maduro, the president of Venezuela, said he survived an alleged assassination attempt when drones carrying explosives detonated near him as he gave a speech.
We’ve heard reports of commercial UAVs helping to deliver drugs to prisoners, survey potential robbery locations, spy on people, and even disrupt an FBI hostage raid, but this could be the first time they’ve been used in an assassination attempt on a country’s leader.
Maduro was speaking at a military event in Caracas on August 4 when the apparent attack took place. Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said one of the explosives went off near the president, though he was unhurt. Seven National Guard soldiers are reported to have been injured.
The event was being shown live on national television. The audio was cut off at the time of the explosion, followed by footage of soldiers running away. Images on social media show Maduro being protected by black bulletproof panels.
Maduro has often been criticized for policies that undermine democracy and violate human rights. Falling oil prices have pushed Venezuela into the middle of an economic crisis, and the President’s recent re-election brought claims of fraudulent polling. Rodriguez claimed Venezuela's right-wing opposition was behind the attack. "After losing the vote, they failed again," he said.
Maduro, however, said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos was responsible, a claim the Colombian government has called “absurd.” He also alleged that elements within the US were part of "a right-wing plot" to kill him.
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 Donald Trump to fight these “terrorist groups.”
A group called Soldiers in T-shirts used social media to claim responsibility for the drone attack, though it has offered no evidence. It claims the UAVs were shot down before reaching Maduro.
If this really was a drone attack—some authorities claim it was a gas tank explosion—it could mark the start of a practice where non-military UAVs are used in assassination attempts on high-profile targets.
Images: Xinhua via AP