Helicopter carrying Colombian president and senior officials hit by gunfire

Colombia’s president Iván Duque said a helicopter carrying him and several senior officials came under fire in the southern Catatumbo region bordering Venezuela, in a rare instance of a direct attack on a presidential aircraft.

Duque said everyone on board the helicopter was safe, including the defense minister Diego Molano, the interior minister Daniel Palacios and the governor of Norte de Santander state, Silvano Serrano.

“I want to inform the country that after fulfilling a commitment in Sardinata in Catatumbo, approaching the city of Cúcuta, the presidential helicopter was the victim of an attack,” the president said in a statement on Friday.

He said the helicopter’s equipment and capabilities “prevented something lethal from happening”.

A video released by the presidency showed several bullet holes in the Colombian air force helicopter.

Duque did not provide the time of the attack or say who he believed carried it out, but several armed groups are known to operate in the area.

The president said the “cowardly” attack would not make him stop fighting drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime. “The message is that Colombia is always strong in the face of crime and our institutions are above any threat,” he said.

Cúcuta was already on a security alert after a car bomb attack on 14 June at a military base that caused 36 injuries to military personnel and civilians.

Colombian authorities have said they suspect dissidents from the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or the rebel National Liberation Army. The latter has denied being behind the attack.

When the conservative Duque began his presidency in 2018, the government said it was investigating possible attacks being planned against the president at a public event. The attacks never materialised.

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