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Several dead in operation to arrest Venezuela pilot: official

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Caracas (AFP)

Several people, including two police officers, were killed in an operation to capture a helicopter pilot who dropped grenades on Venezuela's Supreme Court during anti-government protests last year, the interior ministry said Monday.

A ministry statement said members of a "terrorist cell" were killed in a gunbattle, and five were captured, but did not say whether the pilot, Oscar Perez, was among the dead or detained.

At the height of street protests against President Nicolas Maduro last June, Perez and unidentified accomplices flew over Caracas in a police helicopter and dropped four grenades on the Supreme Court before opening fire on the interior ministry. There were no casualties.

Perez has been on the run since Venezuelan authorities issued an arrest warrant through Interpol after accusing him of a "terrorist attack."

"These terrorists, who were heavily armed with high-caliber weapons, opened fire on the officials responsible for their capture," the interior ministry statement said.

It said those who resisted had been killed.

The police were "attacked violently" when they were negotiating the surrender of Perez's group, it said, adding that they had "tried to detonate a vehicle loaded with explosives."

AFP journalists trying to reach the area saw an army tank, special forces and ambulances rush to the scene.

Perez said in a video released on Twitter earlier Monday that he and his companions were surrounded and pinned down by police marksmen on a roadway at El Junquito on the outskirts of Caracas.

"They are firing at us with grenade launchers. We said we are going to surrender but they do not want to let us surrender. They want to kill us," a bloodied Perez said in one of several dramatic videos posted online.

Perez, a former elite police officer, is seen with other men in one of the videos, some of them armed.

He said they were being besieged by snipers.

Vice president of the ruling Socialist party, Diosdado Cabello, said on Twitter the Police Special Action Force (FAES) had launched the operation to arrest Perez.

He said the security forces had "responded with fire" when two officers were wounded in the operation.

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