Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico shot, expected to survive: What we know so far | News

The Slovak prime minister was shot multiple times on Wednesday in an assassination attempt.

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico is no longer in a life-threatening condition, following a “politically motivated” assassination attempt on Wednesday, during which he was shot five times, a government minister said.

The gunman, believed to be a 71-year-old writer, is in custody. No one else was injured in the attack.

Here is what we know so far:

What happened in Slovakia and when?

  • Fico was injured on Wednesday in a shooting deemed by the government as an assassination attempt. The prime minister was shot five times as he was leaving a government meeting and greeting people in the town of Handlova.
  • After the violent incident, the 59-year-old leader was transferred by helicopter to a hospital near the city of Banska Bystrica because of the need for “acute intervention”.
  • A video shared on social media showed Fico approaching a small group of people behind a waist-high metal barrier in a public square. Suddenly, a man emerged and discharged a pistol from close range, resulting in five audible gunshots.
  • After the first gunshot, Fico doubled over and fell backwards onto a bench, local media reported, adding that he was shot in the abdomen and a second hit a joint.
  • Security officers rushed and took him to a black Audi parked a few feet away. He was then airlifted to Banska Bystrica, where he underwent surgery at a medical facility.
  • At the shooting site, security officers wrestled a suspect to the ground. Officials stated that preliminary evidence suggested political motivations. According to reports, Fico was conscious while being transported to hospital. The suspect was seen wearing a pale blue shirt, sitting on the ground with his hands tied behind his back.
  • Deputy Prime Minister Tomas Taraba said late on Wednesday that Fico’s hospital operation “went well”, adding: “I guess in the end he will survive.”

Where did the attack happen in Slovakia?

  • According to local television news station TA3, the shooting took place in the town of Handlova, approximately 190km (118 miles) northeast of Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava.
  • He was flown to a hospital in Banska Bystrica, a city in central Slovakia, 62km (39 miles) east of Handlova.

Who was behind the attack?

  • According to a report by the Associated Press quoting local media, the gunman was a former security guard at a shopping mall, the writer of three poetry collections and held membership in the Slovak Society of Writers.
  • News outlet Aktuality.sk quoted his son as saying his father was the legal holder of a gun licence.
  • “I have absolutely no idea what my father intended, what he planned, what happened,” it quoted the son as saying.
  • Local media reports say the suspect is 71 years old.

Who is Robert Fico?

  • Fico, born in 1964 in what was then Czechoslovakia, won a third term as Slovakian prime minister in October.
  • He has committed to end Slovak military assistance for Ukraine and has promised to obstruct Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, a stance that would overturn Slovakia’s longstanding support for Ukraine.
  • Prior to the election, Fico openly expressed his pro-Kremlin sentiments and attributed Russia’s mobilisation to “Ukrainian Nazis and fascists,” echoing the narrative used by Russian President Vladimir Putin to justify the war.
  • He previously served as Slovakia’s prime minister for more than a decade, between 2006 and 2010, and then again from 2012 to 2018.
  • In 2018 he was forced to step down amid controversy after the assassination of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. Kuciak was investigating corruption, including individuals directly linked to Fico and his political party, Direction – Social Democracy (SMER).
  • In his latest campaign, he pledged to pursue a “sovereign” foreign policy and actively campaigned against LGBTQ rights.
  • Fico also served for several years in the 1990s as a governmental agent representing the Slovak Republic before the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission of Human Rights.

What’s the context?

  • Slovakia’s defence and interior minister Robert Kalinak said this was the result of escalating hate speech and division within the country’s political atmosphere.
  • Theresa Fallon, founder and director of the Centre for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies, said the shooting highlights the political polarisation that exists in Slovakia after Fico’s election last year.
  • “We also see this throughout Europe; many right-wing parties are gaining in strength,” Fallon told Al Jazeera.
  • The attack comes ahead of key European parliamentary elections in which populist parties are expected to make gains. The attack risks fuelling further political division across Europe.
  • Fallon from the Centre for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies also noted how Dutch nationalist Geert Wilders earlier reached a deal to form what is set to be the most right-wing government in the Netherlands in decades. She also pointed out the popularity of the far-right Alternative for Germany party in Germany, which now has 20 percent of the vote.
  • “I think that this deep political polarisation, we’re seeing all across Europe,” she added.

What have been the reactions?

World leaders quickly condemned the attack.

  • President Joe Biden said it was a “horrific act of violence”, adding that he and First Lady Jill Biden “are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia”.
  • “There can be no justification for this monstrous crime. I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to survive this difficult situation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she “condemned the vile attack … such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good”.
  • French President Emmanuel Macron said on social media that he was “shocked” by the attack.
  • Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban decried the “heinous” attack. “I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico. We pray for his health and quick recovery! God bless him and his country!” Orban said.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also condemned the attack.
  • “We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state’s head of government. Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form or sphere,” he said.

For more reactions follow our coverage here.