Venezuela's interior minister identified the c-drones used in the attack as DJI Matrice 600 hexacopters. Image:Néstor Reverol, Twitter

Weaponized c-drones in Venezuela assassination attempt

Security • law enforcement • countermeasures

As Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, gave a speech before high-ranking military officers in Caracas on August 4, a c-drone flying above soldiers at attention exploded in midair. Seven people were injured as security personnel surrounded the president. About fourteen seconds later, a second explosion was heard and soldiers scattered on Bolívar Avenue. State channel VTV, carrying the speech live, showed the president’s surprise then soldiers breaking ranks. Social media video showed a hovering c-drone exploding, interrupting Maduro’s speech. 400m (¼ mile) away, the second c-drone descended slowly down the side of an apartment building to a second floor ledge, then exploded about 14 seconds after the first one, starting a fire in the building.

The attack was claimed on Twitter by the Soldiers in Flannel, a little-known group which did not respond to wire service media inquiries. Six people were arrested and President Maduro accused the Venezuelan and Colombian far-right, as well as outgoing Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, but did not offer any evidence.

The hexacopter c-drones were identified as DJI Matrice 600 models by Néstor Luis Reverol, Venezuela’s interior minister, who said in a press conference the next day that the National Guard had jammed the first drone’s transmissions while the other lost its control link, and that each drone had carried a 1 kg (2.2 lb) payload of C4 plastic explosive. The M600 was launched in April 2016, targeted at the professional film and photography market, and can carry a 6 kg (13 lb) payload for 16 to 40 minutes depending on battery model and payload weight. Telemundo, the American Spanish-language broadcaster, broadcast footage which appeared to show the crashed c-drone flying with its landing gear removed. The M600 can be fitted with optional antennas/controllers which improve reception and positioning, the A3 Pro or the D-RTK GNSS systems, and in the footage of the apartment building drone three antennas can be seen.

Venezuela’s oil-subsidized economy is on the brink of collapse, with annualized inflation measured at 82,766% in July according to the country’s National Assembly. Widespread protests last year were brutally repressed, with the deaths of over 100 citizens and thousands more arrested. A rogue police helicopter pilot who attacked government buildings in Caracas last year was killed with other anti-Maduro militants in a shootout in January.

One c-drone exploded over Bolívar Avenue. Image: César Guardiola (@CESGUAR, Twitter)
The other c-drone descended slowly down a nearby apartment building, collided with it, fell and exploded. Image: Telemundo