Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro survived an alleged assassination attempt on Saturday, August 4, 2018, while delivering a speech at a military parade marking the 81st anniversary of the National Guard. According to official reports from the Venezuelan government, two drones carrying explosive devices exploded in the vicinity of the President's entourage during his speech.
However, Venezuelan firefighters and three senior officials who spoke to the Associated Press under condition of anonymity said it was a gas container explosion in an apartment near the scene of the incident.
An examination of the videos and details published by the media about the event raises questions as to the credibility of the statements made by the President and senior government officials regarding the source of the explosion and the identity of the attackers. It is highly questionable whether this incident was, in fact, a terrorist attack attempt.
The question arises from the behavior of the President himself and his entourage following their immediate reaction to the explosion and the weak response of the President's security detail. From the point of view of those on the stage, the explosion is heard from the front of the stage and at a height, according to the President's wife and part of the entourage of dignitaries around the President who looked up. The President himself had ceased his speech, but seemed indifferent, looking up and still rooted in his place like all members of the entourage around him.
The President's security agents, who stood close to him, reacted slowly and indecisively as they moved to surround him. About ten seconds pass from the moment of the explosion until the first two security guards reach the President and deploy ballistic shields between the President and the stage front, while the third security guard opens an umbrella to hide the President from the direction of the building (a building which was supposed to be searched, controlled and staffed by security personnel in the first place). Meanwhile, other security guards, including the one who appears to be the head of the security team, stand still around the President and for a long time, demonstrating no decision-making capability.
The speed and quality of the response of the security guards and their actions following the explosion looked amateur by any standard. The fact that the President remained in place without the security guards taking immediate actions to evacuate him from the threat, away from the surrounding audience, or at least lay him on the ground and shelter him, make it look like this incident was merely a drill. And even if it was a drill, the performance of the security team deserves harsh criticism.
Other question marks stem from the absence of evidence supporting the official version of the government and media in Venezuela, according to which the explosion was caused by explosive-laden drones. A bomb carried on a drone smashes the drone itself first. However, there were no remains of drones in the arena, and it is reasonable to assume that if there were, those would be presented at the press conference held by the Minister of Interior Affairs. Given the recent turn of events, the introduction of such “remains” in the near future will not come as a surprise. It should be noted that on August 6, a video showing a drone exploding in midair was published in Venezuela, though no evidence was presented linking it to the attempted attack.
The apartment in which the explosion took place, according to the fire department’s version, is located on a high floor in a nearby building. It was covered in soot, and large fire marks were evident in two separate sections of the apartment floor. Also, smoke was rising through the windows of one of the rooms facing the front. It is unlikely that a bomb carried by a drone caused such damage. Moreover, in light of the existence of intact metal bars covering all the apartment’s openings, it is not clear how the interior of the apartment was so badly damaged, assuming a drone exploded into the apartment.
Two hours after the attack, the Minister of Interior Affairs rushed to a press conference in which he announced the arrest of six terrorists – assassins who took part in the attack. Was that the result of a swift investigation that demonstrated impressive intelligence capabilities, or was it an act of deception, just as impressive?
The President, who delivered a pungent speech after the Minister, accused the Colombian President of being behind the attempted assassination. While Maduro boasted in his composure and total control of the situation, his behavior during the so-called "attack" suggests he was not nonchalant, but rather indifferent. It is difficult to resolve the contradiction between his relaxed behavior and the severity of the incident, given his perception of it as a murder attempt. One would expect to see an action indicating survival instinct at the least.
There is certainly one lesson here, not entirely new, which must not be taken lightly. The possibility of a terrorist attack by means of drones poses a significant threat in public events in open spaces.
This threat requires proper field and risk analysis of this modus operandi and providing an appropriate response, including the appropriate deployment of security personnel, the installation of anti-drone protection systems and even the installation of certain physical protection measures.
In this case, the question marks surrounding the behavior of the security team, as well as the President himself and his entourage, along with the findings presented in the media, raise serious doubt whether this was, in fact, an assassination attempt by explosive-laden drones, or by any other means, against the President of Venezuela.
Meir Gershuni, formerly a senior official in the Israel Security Agency, is currently the owner of a security consulting company.