Authorities in Venezuela have attributed a spate of grenade attacks targeting police to a backlash against a nationwide security crackdown, an indication that criminals are prepared to match the escalating aggression shown by the country's security forces.
Last weekend saw five separate incidents in which criminals attacked police with grenades, leaving several civilians and police wounded, reported Globovision.
Three of the attacks took place in metropolitan Caracas, with the worst leaving 14 people injured after criminals hurled two grenades at police as they were carrying out an operation in the city's eastern district of Las Mercedes, reported El Universal.
Elsewhere, in the state of Carabobo, three men attacked the site of Venezuela's investigative police force (CICPC) with explosives and gunfire, while in Guarico, two youths, who were later captured, threw a grenade at the regional police station.
Freddy Bernal, a leading figure in the ruling socialist party (PSUV) told local media the attacks were a response by criminals to the captures and killings of gang leaders during the ongoing security campaign "Operation Liberation of the People" (OLP).
"It is a reaction from organized crime to the effective and positive actions of the OLP," he said.
Police are investigating the possibility that at least one of the attacks was related to an operation targeting criminal boss Jose Antonio Tovar Colina, alias "El Picure," who was wounded in a clash with police days earlier, reported El Nacional.
InSight Crime Analysis
The OLP has been a belated response to the violence, insecurity and criminality that has been building in Venezuela for several years now. The campaign, which began in July, has seen heavily armed security forces deployed to seize back territory from criminal groups.
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Operations have targeted many of the increasingly powerful and dangerous "mega-gangs" that run kidnapping, extortion, robbery and murder rings, and have seen security forces face off against some of the country's most notorious criminals, including El Picure, whose network stretches through several Venezuelan states. However, the campaign has been undermined by widespread accusations of human rights abuses.
There is no solid evidence yet that the grenade attacks were coordinated by large criminal networks, but there is little doubt they were intended as a message to the security forces that criminals currently being targeted are prepared to fight back. In a country where criminals proved themselves more than willing to assault and kill police long before the OLP went operational, the most recent attacks could prove a harbinger of yet more violence to come.