Venezuelan helicopter pilot killed in police raid

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Five members of a "terrorist cell" linked to rogue Venezuelan helicopter pilot Oscar Perez were arrested following a shootout with security forces, an anchor for Venezuelan state television said on Monday.

Oscar Perez was among the seven who died fighting against police and soldiers Monday in a small mountain community outside of Caracas, Interior Minister Nestor Reverol said.

Mr Perez appeared with a bloody face in almost a dozen dramatic Instagram videos earlier on Monday, saying he was surrounded by authorities shooting at him with grenade launchers.

Two police officers were also killed and six people detained during the operation. "We are a coalition between military, police and civilian officials, in search of balance and against this transitory and criminal government", Perez said in a video in June 2017, taking responsibility for the attack. "They should not doubt that", he said.

The Venezuelan Information Ministry didn't respond to requests for more details on the police operation and whether Perez had escaped, been killed or captured.

The group's leader, Oscar Perez, 37, who formerly was a pilot and inspector with the police intelligence agency known by its Spanish initials, CICPC, sent (link in Spanish) Monday morning saying that he and his men were cornered and trying to surrender to police but that the authorities kept firing. "We told them that we're prepared to turn ourselves in, but they won't let us".

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During Perez's hijacking of a helicopter in June, he displayed a banner with the letters "350 Libertad", referring to an article of the constitution that gives citizens the right to ignore orders of an abusive government.

Perez, 36, had posted that he was "negotiating with officials (and) prosecutors".

"The Ministry for Interior Relations, Justice and Peace of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, informs today, January 15 2018, that a risky terrorist group was dismantled after a confrontation with security forces", reads the statement.

Reverol also said that the group had received financing from overseas, and that they were planning actions against the civilian population, including vehicle bombs in public places.

Some Maduro critics have questioned whether Mr Perez' attacks were staged in cahoots with the government to justify a further crackdown on the opposition.

Special correspondents Mogollon and Kraul reported from Caracas and Bogota, Colombia, respectively.

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