Colombian president shot in helicopter, qualifying terrorist attack

The helicopter in which Colombian President Duque was riding on the 25th was attacked by gunfire near the border between his country and Venezuela. According to Duque’s statement, “This was a cowardly attack, with bullet holes clearly visible in the presidential aircraft. The helicopter was attacked while the president, the defense and interior ministers and the governor of Norte de Santander, a province adjacent to Venezuela, were traveling. Shortly before the presidential plane landed, a high-powered bomb exploded in a house near the airport in Neiva (southwest), killing 15 people and injuring 66 others. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack on the presidential plane. The U.S. “condemned the cowardly attack on President Duque in the strongest possible terms”; the EU delegation in Colombia said it totally rejected the attack.

The helicopter in which Colombian President Ivan Duque was flying was shot at near the Venezuelan border on Friday, and the head of state condemned the “cowardly attack,” according to an AFP report today.

The attack took place in the department of Norte de Santander, a region in northeastern Colombia ravaged by violence between armed groups and drug trafficking.

It was a cowardly attack and you can see the bullet holes in the president’s plane,” according to Duque in an official statement, adding that his security services and helicopter forces managed to prevent “something deadly” from happening.

According to pictures released by the presidential administration, the plane had several bullet holes in the tail and main rotor.

Colombian President Duque said, “We will not be intimidated by acts of violence or terrorism. Our country is strong and Colombia is strong enough to face this threat,” the conservative president added.

The U.S. government “condemned the cowardly attack on the helicopter in the strongest possible terms,” and the EU delegation in Colombia expressed its complete rejection of such attacks.

It was the first attack directly targeting a Colombian head of state since February 2003, when the radical armed guerrilla group FARC carried out an attack on Alvaro Uribe, Ivan Duque’s political mentor. Shortly before the presidential plane landed, a high-powered bomb exploded in a house near the airport in Neiva (southwest), killing 15 people and injuring 66 others.

Duque boarded the helicopter Friday with his defense and interior ministers and the governor of the northern department of Santander, according to AFP. No one was injured in the attack. The aircraft took off from the village of Sardinata, where the president and his entourage attended a ceremony and were heading to Cúcuta, the department’s capital.

The highly insecure region is one of Colombia’s main drug-producing areas, stretching along a porous 2,200-kilometer long border with Venezuela. Government forces there face guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Pelusos, remnants of the disarmed Maoist insurgency, as well as FARC dissidents and numerous drug gangs.

And armed groups are also fighting among themselves for control of 41,000 hectares of cocaine in the region, a major smuggling route to Venezuela and the Caribbean.

Earlier on June 16, a car bomb exploded at a military facility in Cúcuta, injuring 36 people.

According to an AFP report, Iván Duque interrupted negotiations with ELN in Cuba in 2019 after his predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos, signed a peace deal with FARC in 2016. President Duque buried the negotiations and agreement after a car bombing at the Bogotá Police Academy in January 2019. In that bombing, 22 cadets were killed in addition to the perpetrators.

Since Duque came to power in 2018, Colombia has faced the worst wave of violence since the disarming of the guerrilla Jungle Liberation Army, largely linked to battles over control of drug trafficking and illegal mining.

The right-wing president has also faced a social crisis since late April that erupted in response to a proposed tax hike that had been withdrawn, leading to almost daily demonstrations and clashes and dozens of deaths, the report said.