Gunman shot dead after wounding two at Venezuela central bank

CARACAS (Reuters) - A gunman opened fire inside Venezuela’s central bank on Monday, wounding two guards before he was shot dead by security officers, according to two sources, in the latest violent episode to shake the country.

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The unidentified assailant barged into the bank’s headquarters in central Caracas shooting and shouting, “Where are the board members?,” the institution’s president, Nelson Merentes, said.

“He wounded two guards, fortunately they are stable and are currently in a clinic,” Merentes told journalists, adding that the shooter’s motives were unclear and an investigation was underway.

A security source and a central bank source who asked not to be identified said the attacker was killed.

The assailant set off a metal detector in the main entrance of the bank, at which point he took out his weapon and began firing, said a bank employee.

Merentes said the man briefly took a woman hostage in the reception area, ran up the stairs, and was confronted by security forces between the fourth and fifth floors.

Bank employees said they were holed up in their offices, in downtown Caracas, while the episode was underway.

One source inside the bank said the attacker was a young man who claimed to have a bomb in his briefcase, although the bag was ultimately found to be empty.

Venezuela is one of the world’s most violent countries and illegal gun possession is common.

The country’s opposition accuses the leftist President Nicolas Maduro of allowing crime to flourish, while he says right-wing opponents promote violence against his administration.

Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago, Eyanir Chinea and Alexandra Ulmer; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Alistair Bell