Helicopter carrying Colombian president Ivan Duque is hit by gunfire

Colombian president is saved by his helicopter as mystery gunmen open fire and hit his aircraft near Venezuelan border

  • Columbian President Ivan Duque said his helicopter came under fire on Friday
  • He was flying with senior officials in Catatumbo region, bordering Venezuela
  • It marked the first attack against a Colombian head of state in nearly 20 years 
  • Nobody was injured in the attack, which Duque, 44, described as ‘cowardly’ 
  • Authorities did not confirm which side of the border the shots had come from 

Columbian President Ivan Duque has said a helicopter he was flying in on Friday came under fire in the first attack against a Colombian head of state in nearly 20 years.

Duque, 44, said he was flying with several senior officials when the helicopter was hit by gunfire in the southern Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela.

Nobody was injured in the attack and authorities did not say which side of the border the shots came from. Colombia regularly accuses Venezuela of harboring rebels on its territory.

Photos released by the president’s office showed the tail and main blade of the presidential aircraft had been hit.

‘It is a cowardly attack, where you can see bullet holes in the presidential aircraft,’ Duque said in a statement.  

Columbian President Ivan Duque has said a helicopter (pictured) he was flying in on Friday came under fire in the first attack against a Colombian head of state in nearly 20 years

Duque, 44, said he was flying with several senior officials when the helicopter was hit by gunfire (pictured: damage of aircraft) in the Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela

Duque (centre), 44, said he was flying with several senior officials when the helicopter was hit by gunfire in the southern Catatumbo region, which borders Venezuela

Duque also claimed that the aircraft’s ‘safety features’ had prevented a ‘lethal attack’ and said he has given orders to ‘go after those’ who shot at the aircraft.

The president was surrounded by hoards of bodyguards after landing at Camilo Daza International Airport following the attack, pictures showed.

‘I have given very clear instructions to the entire security team to go after those who shot at the aircraft,’ Duque added.

The US, European Union and UN mission in Colombia all condemned the attack. 

Duque said he was flying with the defense minister Diego Molano, interior minister Daniel Palacios, and Silvano Serrano, the governor of Norte de Santander province – which borders Venezuela – when the helicopter was attacked.

The presidential delegation left the town of Sardinata and was heading to the border city of Cucuta when they came under fire. The time of the attack is not known.

Nobody was injured in the attack and authorities did not say which side of the border the shots came from. Pictured: The helicopter sits at Camilo Daza International Airport after the attack


Photos released by the president’s office showed the tail (right) and main blade (left) of the presidential aircraft had been hit

Duque also claimed that the aircraft’s ‘safety features’ had prevented a ‘lethal attack’ and said he has given orders to ‘go after those’ who shot at the aircraft (pictured after landing)

The US, European Union and UN mission in Colombia all condemned the attack. Pictured: Bullet holes in the presidential helicopter

Duque had attended an event in the Catatumbo region, one of the main coca-growing areas of the country. Colombia is the world’s largest cocaine producer.

The last attack against a president in Colombia was a bombing that targeted then-leader Alvaro Uribe in 2003.

A 20kg bomb hidden in a building near the airport in the southwest city of Neiva exploded prior to the landing of a plane carrying Uribe, who is Duque’s political mentor.

The blast killed 15 people and wounded 66 and the government blamed the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group for that attack.

Venezuela and Colombia broke off relations after Duque, a conservative, came to power in 2018. Venezuela is governed by socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

There are still drug trafficking turf wars fought along the border with Venezuela by holdouts from FARC, the active guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other armed bands.

The Duque government has repeatedly accused Venezuela of giving refuge to ELN fighters.

‘We are not frightened by violence or acts of terrorism. Our state is strong and Colombia is strong to confront this kind of threat,’ Duque said after the attack on his chopper.

It comes after a car bomb exploded on a military base in Cucuta on June 16, wounding 36 people. 

The president (fourth from right) was surrounded by hoards of bodyguards after landing at Camilo Daza International Airport following the attack, pictures showed

Duque said he was flying with the defense and interior ministers, and the governor of Norte de Santander province, which borders Venezuela, when the helicopter (pictured) was attacked

The last attack against a president in Colombia was a bombing that targeted then-leader Alvaro Uribe in 2003. Pictured: Soldiers stand guard at Camilo Daza International Airport after the presidential helicopter was hit by gunfire

The presidential delegation had left the town of Sardinata and was headed to the border city of Cucuta when they came under fire. Pictured: Helicopter at airport after being hit by gunfire

The government blamed the ELN for the bomb, which it ended peace negotiations with back in 2019. 

The talks started after the government concluded a historic peace accord in 2016 with the much bigger FARC that ended decades of civil war. 

But since Duque came to power, the country has been enduring its worst outbreak of violence since the peace accord with the FARC, which disarmed itself in 2017.

The government has accused armed groups financed with drug money of carrying out massacres in isolated coca-producing regions.

With his approval record at rock bottom, Duque is also facing anger in the streets.

Tens of thousands of people voiced their discontent on April 28 against a proposed tax hike that they said would hurt the middle class, already suffering economically from the pandemic.

The government withdrew the proposal, but the protests morphed into a broader grassroots movement to air gripes about inequality, education and other woes, amid complaints of heavy handed police action to put down the marches. More than 60 people have died in the unrest.

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