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Slovak PM shooting – everything we know so far about the assassination attempt on Robert Fico

by Chris York May 16, 2024 10:45 AM 4 min read
Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, in Prague on Nov. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
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Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:20 p.m. local time on May 16 to include Fico’s latest condition assessment.

Slovakia was rocked on May 15 when the country's prime minister was shot in an assassination attempt as he left a government meeting in the town of Handlova.

Footage from the scene shows the suspected gunman among a small group of people on the street behind a metal barrier waiting to meet Fico, who is flanked by several members of his security detail.

The suspected gunman then reaches over the barrier, holding a gun. Five shots are heard, and Fico is quickly bundled into a waiting car.

What condition is Fico in?

In the hours after the attack, Defense Minister Robert Kalinak told a news conference outside the hospital in which 59-year-old Fico was being treated that he was "fighting for his life."

A statement on Fico's official Facebook page said he had been taken to a major trauma hospital in Banska Bystrica instead of the capital, Bratislava, because "an acute intervention" was necessary.

"The next few hours will decide (his condition)," the statement added.

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister and Environment Minister Tomas Taraba told the BBC's Newshour late on May 15 that Fico was no longer in a life-threatening condition after an operation.

"Fortunately, as far as I know, the operation went well, and I guess in the end, he will survive," he said, adding: "He's not in a life-threatening situation at this moment."

He said that Fico "was heavily injured" during the attack, and one bullet "went through the stomach" while another "hit the joints."

Later on the afternoon of May 16, Miriam Lapunikova, director of the F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital in Banska Bystrica, said Fico was in a "very serious" but stable condition.

"At this point his condition is stabilised but is truly very serious, he will be in the intensive care unit," she told reporters.

While initial reports said Fico had been shot five times, later reports said he was only hit by three bullets.

What do we know about the shooter?

At present, very little. A man was detained at the scene, but he has yet to be officially identified.

According to Slovak media, he is a 71-year-old writer and political activist.

Security personnel apprehending a suspected gunman after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot in Handlova, Slovakia, on May 15, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

What do we know about the motive?

There is no official information about the motive of the shooter at present.

Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok described it as a "politically motivated" assassination attempt.

President-elect Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Fico's, said the shooting was a threat to Slovakia's democracy.

"I am appalled at where hatred for a different political opinion can lead," Pellegrini said.

Why is Fico so controversial?

Elected in September 2023 on a populist, Ukraine-skeptic platform, Fico halted arms supplies from Slovakia's military stocks and has repeatedly criticized both defense assistance for Ukraine and sanctions against Russia.

He also blamed "Ukrainian Nazis and fascists" for provoking Russia's war of aggression, repeating false talking points of Russian propaganda.

Fico has since expressed support for Ukraine's accession to the EU.

Domestically, Fico's coalition government is pushing ahead with controversial reforms that would see penalties for corruption reduced.

The prime minister has already abolished Slovakia's special prosecutor's office, the body responsible for investigating politically sensitive corruption cases.

Fico's government is also seeking to shut down and replace the national broadcaster in a move that has been described by the Public Media Alliance as giving "greater political control" over the country's media.

Estok has already accused the media of stoking the atmosphere that led to the assassination attempt, telling reporters: "Many of you were those who were sowing this hatred."

He also warned that the attack was a sign that "we are on the verge of civil war."

How has the international community reacted?

International leaders immediately reacted to the news and offered their support to Fico and Slovakia.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said Fico's shooting was "appalling" and added that "we strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring partner state's head of government."

Many also linked hostile political rhetoric to the attack.

Czech President Petr Pavel said the attack on Fico "is unequivocally reprehensible, whatever the motivation."

"It should be a warning to us about how far the deepening of animosity and aggression in society can lead."

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