‘Lone wolf’ charged in shooting of Slovak PM Robert Fico

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A “lone wolf” attacker has been charged with attempted murder over the shooting of Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico in what the interior minister said was a politically motivated attack that left the premier gravely injured.

Interior minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok said in a Thursday briefing that early indications pointed to a “political motivation” behind the close-range shooting of Fico on Wednesday, but that the suspect did not appear to belong to a specific political group.

“This is a lone wolf who had radicalised himself in the latest period after the presidential election,” he said.

The shooting of the populist, pro-Russia leader came as deep political divisions play out in Slovakia, where Fico’s return to the premiership late last year prompted mass protests.

The attempt on his life — the first against a sitting EU leader in more than two decades — has reverberated across the continent just three weeks before European parliamentary elections.

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico attends a government meeting in Handlová before the shooting © Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters

Local media reported the suspect was a 71-year-old man with a gun licence. Footage of the incident shows the shooter being detained on the scene after firing five shots at close range.

The man is an amateur poet and former security guard who has attended at least two anti-government demonstrations. He is also reported to have had links with a pro-Russia ultranationalist group and has a history of racist anti-Roma writings.

Medics had earlier said Fico, 59, was in a serious but stable condition after a five-hour operation for injuries sustained when he was shot multiple times as he greeted people in the town of Handlová, about 190km from the central European country’s capital Bratislava.

Hospital director Miriam Lapuníková told a news conference on Thursday that Fico’s condition was “stabilised but very serious”.

Locator map of Handlova in Slovakia

Fico had recently warned that he was vulnerable to an attack, but government ministers said on Thursday that there had been no failure by his security team.

“We cannot allow fear to lock us up in a cage where we will be protected and we will never find out what problems people have,” said defence minister Robert Kaliňák. 

The attack has laid bare the deep political divisions in the EU and Nato member state of 5.4mn, where Fico’s election victory in September — heralding his fourth term as prime minister since 2006 — and his moves to overhaul the country’s judicial system and media have sparked protests.

“This assassination [attempt] was politically motivated and the perpetrator’s decision was created closely after the presidential election,” said Eštok, referring to the April election won by a Fico ally, Peter Pellegrini.

Andrej Danko, leader of the Slovak National party, which is part of Fico’s ruling coalition, warned that the attack could herald “a political war”.

But outgoing President Zuzana Čaputová, a liberal and outspoken critic of Fico, called for a halt to vitriolic language against politicians. “The hateful rhetoric we witness leads to hateful acts,” she said in a televised address to the nation. “A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but also on democracy.”


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