• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Argentina authorities investigate man who tried to assassinate Vice President Cristina Fernández

Police officers stand guard outside the house of Argentina's Vice-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner after she was attacked by an unidentified assailant with a gun late on Thursday, according to local television footage, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, September 1, 2022. REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

Published on Sep 2, 2022 12:44 PM EDT

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — As Argentina’s powerful Vice President Cristina Fernández stepped from her car outside her apartment building and began shaking hands with a throng of a well-wishers, a man came forward with a gun, put it just inches from her face and pulled the trigger with a distinct click.

The weapon apparently jammed.

Argentina’s Vice president has survived what appears to have been attempt to kill her. It was over in just a few moments as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, was greeting supporters outside her home late Thursday. Suddenly from among the crowd a gun appears, the barrel pointed at her head, a click is heard and the trigger it seems may have been pulled. But the weapon did not fire. The Vice President was not hurt, but all of this playing out live on television.

Right now a suspect is in custody.

The latest is what we have seen from these shocking images that were streamed, and broadcasted live on national TV in Argentina. You can see, a man was able to get very close to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the Vice President of Argentina. A former two terms President of the country and arguable the most famous political figure in the nation in this moment, and draw a gun, and pointing it literally no more than 20 cm from her face. The President of Argentina addressed the nation shortly afterwards to send a message of calm, of quietness, but also to corroborate the most serious attack that the nation has faced since the restoration of Democracy in the 1980’s. In particular, the president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández said the gun was armed with five bullets. And that he said and I quote, “Cristina is still alive because – for some reason we can’t technically confirm at this moment – the weapon, which was armed with five bullets, did not shoot although the trigger was pulled,” Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández said in a televised address late Thursday.

He also called for a day of national holiday on Friday, which is tomorrow here in South America, to rally the population around Cristina de Kirchner and calling or a moment of reflection.

This image provided by Television Publica Argentina shows a man pointing a gun at Argentina´s Vice President Cristina Fernandez Thursday during an event in front of her home in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP/Television Publica Argentina)
This image provided by Television Publica Argentina shows a man pointing a gun at Argentina´s Vice President Cristina Fernandez Thursday during an event in front of her home in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina. (AP/Television Publica Argentina)

The attack, which shook the country, was widely condemned by numerous political leaders and social activists from around the world.

The incident took place outside Fernández de Kirchner’s home in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta neighborhood, where hundreds of protesters have been gathered since last week to express their support for the former president in the face of the judicial and political persecution against her.

Argentine Vice President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, thanking supporters who have gathered outside her home since last week in her support in the face of ongoing judicial and political persecution against her. (Photo:Cristina Fernández de Kirchner/Twitter)

Fernández de Kirchner was greeting supporters outside her home, after returning from the senate, when a man emerged from the crowd, raised a handgun to her face, and attempted to shoot, but the gun seemed to misfire. The incident was captured by television cameras that were at the scene.

According to local media, police arrested the gunman, who was identified as Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old man of Brazilian origin. He was carrying a 22-caliber Bersa pistol. The officers are now trying to establish a motive for the attack.

Addressing the nation late on Thursday night, President Alberto Fernández said that “Cristina remains alive because, for some reason not yet technically confirmed, the gun, which contained five bullets, did not fire.”

President Fernández strongly condemned the attack, calling it “the most serious incident since we recovered democracy in 1983.”

Referring to the aversion expressed to the vice president in the media in recent days by the opposition forces, the head of state emphasized that “we can disagree, we can have deep disagreements, but hate speech cannot take place because it breeds violence and there is no chance of violence coexisting with democracy.”

Identified as Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel, is a Brazilian with a criminal history and a Nazi tattoo. The suspect sports a ‘black sun’ symbol that has been used by white supremacist mass shooters.
Identified as Fernando Andre Sabag Montiel, is a Brazilian with a criminal history and a Nazi tattoo. The suspect sports a ‘black sun’ symbol that has been used by white supremacist mass shooters.

President Fernández said that “we are facing an event that has an extreme institutional and human seriousness. Our vice president has been attacked and social peace has been disturbed.”

The president called on each Argentine, the political and social leadership, and the media to repudiate the incident and reject any form of violence. “We need to repudiate the disqualifying and stigmatizing words that divide us,” he said.

He also declared a national holiday on Friday to allow Argentines time to “express themselves in defense of life, democracy and in solidarity with the vice president.”

National condemnation

The attack, which shook the country, was widely condemned by numerous political leaders and social activists. Social organizations and popular movements called on people to increase the mobilizations to defend the vice president. The political organization, La Cámpora, has called for a massive march in “defense of democracy and in solidarity with the vice president” at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires at 12 pm today.

The ruling Frente de Todos coalition also published a statement repudiating the attempt on the life of the nation’s vice president. “We have been warning the people about it. The incitements to hatred directed from different spheres of political, media and judicial power against the former president, only led to a climate of extreme violence. We urge the leadership as a whole, the media and society as a whole to join in this repudiation, as well as to commit themselves to the search for social peace over and above all differences,” stated the coalition.

Economic Minister Sergio Massa condemned that attack, stating “when hate and violence prevail over debate, societies are destroyed and situations like these arise: attempted assassination.”

A group of 13 human rights organizations, including Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained for Political Reasons, Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice against Oblivion and Silence (HIJOS), among others, issued a statement rejecting the attempted assassination of the vice president. “We call on all of society to condemn the assassination attempt that puts coexistence at serious risk and constitutes an unprecedented event in our 40 years of democracy. We demand the fastest clarification of this terrible criminal act,” they stated.

Former president and one of the main opposition leaders, Mauricio Macri, also rejected that attack. “This very serious fact requires immediate and profound clarification by the justice system and the security forces.”

Buenos Aires’ mayor, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, of the opposition party Republican Proposal (PRO), repudiated the attack and expressed his solidarity with the vice president. He urged the country’s “Justice to act quickly to clarify the facts.” “This is a turning point in the democratic history of our country. Today, more than ever, all Argentines have to work together for peace,” he tweeted.

International solidarity

The attempted murder of Fernández de Kirchner was widely condemned by leaders, movements and organizations from around the world.

Bolivian President Luis Arce, was among the first international leaders to condemn the attack against the Argentine vice president. “We emphatically repudiate the attack on the life of sister Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Vice President of Argentina. From the Plurinational State of Bolivia we send all our support to her, her family, the Argentine government and people,” he tweeted.

Former Bolivian President and current head of the ruling Movement Towards Socialism party, Evo Morales, also repudiated the “cowardly assassination attempt against our sister Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.” Morales emphasized that “the criminal right and subservient to imperialism shall not pass. The free and dignified people of Argentina will defeat it.”

Chilean President Gabriel Boric also sent his solidarity and affirmed that “the assassination attempt on the vice president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández, deserves the repudiation and condemnation of the entire continent. The path shall always be the debate of ideas and dialogue, never weapons or violence.”

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel also rejected the attempted assassination and sent his country’s solidarity.

The Mexican Foreign Ministry, through Twitter, expressed its government’s concern about the incident and expressed its solidarity.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro also strongly repudiated the attack. “We strongly repudiate this action that seeks to destabilize the peace of the brotherly Argentine people. The Great Homeland is with you comrade!,” he tweeted.

Former president and current presidential candidate for the Workers’ Party of Brazil (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also expressed his “solidarity with comrade Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the victim of a fascist criminal who does not know how to respect differences and diversity.” “Cristina is a woman who deserves the respect of every Democrat in the world. Thank God she escaped unharmed,” he added.

The Executive Secretary of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – People’s Trade Treaty (ALBA-TCP), Sacha Llorenti, also condemned and repudiated the terrible incident and expressed the organization’s solidarity with the Argentine vice president, her family and the people of Argentina.

Pope Francis also expressed his repudiation of the attack. “Having received the worrying news of the attack that your Excellency suffered yesterday afternoon, I wish to express my solidarity and closeness in this delicate moment,” the Argentine Pope wrote in a letter. He added: “I pray that in our beloved Argentina social harmony and respect for democratic values may always prevail, against all types of violence and aggression”.

In addition to these leaders, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, Spanish president Pedro Sánchez, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Carlos Faria, among several others, condemned the attack against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and expressed their solidarity.

READ MORE: Argentina could take another sharp political turn in vote

Fernández’s security detail seized the gunman and took him away, and the 69-year-old former president of Argentina appeared unhurt. But the apparent assassination attempt against the deeply divisive figure Thursday night shook Argentina — a country with a history of political violence — and further roiled its tumultuous political scene.

The gunman was identified as Fernando André Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old street vendor and Brazilian citizen who has lived in Argentina since 1998 and had no criminal record, authorities said. He was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

Authorities shed no light on a possible motive and were investigating whether he acted alone or was part of a larger plot.

“There is no confirmed hypothesis,” said a Security Ministry official who was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. “Everything is being investigated.”

Tens of thousands of people packed the streets surrounding Government House in downtown Buenos Aires in the afternoon to show their support for the vice president and denounce the incident.

Many demonstrators carried signs calling for peace and unity or expressing their love for Fernández. Chants against the political opposition could also be heard.

No politician awakens more passion in Argentina than Fernández, who has both fervent supporters and ardent detractors.

The left-of-center leader is on trial on corruption charges involving public works while she was president from 2007 to 2015. Some of her staunchest supporters had been gathering daily outside her apartment since Aug. 22, when a prosecutor called for a 12-year prison sentence for her and a ban on holding public office ever again. She has vehemently denied all charges and cast herself as a victim of political persecution.

“If you touch Cristina, what chaos we’ll make!” supporters had chanted.

READ MORE: In Buenos Aires, Obama aims to boost Argentina’s new leader

In recent days, some of her allies charged that her detractors were trying to spark violence, with Security Minister Aníbal Fernández saying the opposition “is looking for someone to die on the street.”

Following Thursday’s incident, some of her supporters pointed the finger at the opposition for what they said was hateful speech that could push people toward violence.

Before the apparent attempt on her life, Fernández had made a habit of leaving her apartment every day around noon, greeting supporters and signing autographs before getting in her vehicle to go to the Senate. She had a similar routine every evening.

Over the weekend, her supporters had clashed with police during an effort by law enforcement to clear the area, and the strong police presence around the apartment was then reduced, though her supporters kept coming.

In Thursday’s incident, which was captured on video, it was not clear whether Fernández understood what had just happened. Video appeared to show her covering her face and ducking. But seen from another angle, it looked as she had dropped something and crouched to pick it up.

Even as her security detail went into action, Fernández continued greeting supporters in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood of Argentina’s capital.

Government officials and former leaders decried the episode as a threat against democracy and the rule of law.

“When hate and violence are imposed over the debate of ideas, societies are destroyed and generate situations like the one seen today: an assassination attempt,” Economy Minister Sergio Massa said.

Patricia Bullrich, president of the opposition Republican Proposal party, accused President Fernández of using the incident for political gain.

“Instead of seriously investigating a serious incident, he accuses the opposition and the press, decreeing a national holiday to mobilize activists,” she said.

Fernández has been at the center stage of Argentine political life for almost two decades, revered by some for her left-leaning social welfare policies and reviled by others as corrupt and power-hungry. She was the country’s charismatic first lady during President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-07 administration, then succeeded her husband.

READ MORE: Argentina ousts incumbent presidential party in runoff election

As opposition to her rule began rising, Fernández increasingly portrayed herself as the victim of attacks from powerful special interests because of her defense of the poor and workers.

In one of the most dramatic incidents of her two-term presidency, a prosecutor who had accused Fernández of making a deal with Iran to cover up its alleged involvement in a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires died shortly before he was set to present evidence against her in 2015.

Allies of the former president insist Alberto Nisman died by suicide. But the opposition has long contended that he was murdered or driven to kill himself.

Brazil’s authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has frequently criticized the left-leaning Argentine government, weighed in Friday on the apparent assassination attempt.

“I lament it, and there are people already trying to blame me for that problem,” Bolsonaro said. “It is good that the attacker didn’t know how to use a gun, otherwise he would have been successful. ”

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