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Slovakia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Robert Kalinak (L) and Minister of Interior Matus Sutaj Estok (R) address a press conference after the meeting of the State Security Council in Bratislava, Slovakia, on 16 May 2024, one day after an attack on the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. (Photo by TOMAS BENEDIKOVIC/AFP via Getty Images)

Suspect Charged in Assassination Attempt of Slovak Prime Minister

Slovak officials charged a man with attempting to assassinate Prime Minister Robert Fico outside of a cultural community center in Handlova on Wednesday.

Authorities have not released the name of the individual charged with the crime but did say that he acted alone and that it was a politically motivated attack, the Associated Press reported.

“I can confirm that this person is not a member of any right-wing or left-wing radicalized party,” said Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok.

After arresting the suspect, police officers searched the individual’s home and seized documents, according to The New York Times. Authorities are also investigating the security response to the shooting on Wednesday.

“Slovakian officials have acknowledged that there is criticism over the actions of officers,” the Times explained. “Local news outlets have published interviews with security experts analyzing the movements of the gunman and officers’ responses to try to understand how the attacker could have fired at least five times at close range before being subdued.”

For instance, former head of the Slovakian personal security unit, Juraj Kabojnik, criticized the security team’s response, telling Yahoo! News that he did not see any of the team members stand in front of the head of government during his appearance in Handlova.

Fico was shot several times during the attack and was airlifted to a hospital in Banska Bystrica for emergency medical treatment. Reuters reported that he underwent another two-hour operation on Friday and would only be transported to Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, if his condition improves.

“Miriam Lapunikova, director of the hospital treating Fico, said he was conscious and stable in the intensive care unit after the operation, which removed dead tissue from his wounds,” according to Reuters. “Fico also underwent hours of surgery on Wednesday soon after being shot five times at close range.”

Officials have also not confirmed who is taking on Fico’s responsibilities while he is incapacitated. Robert Kaliniak, defense minister and deputy prime minister, told the AP that Slovakia’s government continues to function and that ministries are continuing their duties.

“The state is stable, and today the patient is stable as well,” Kaliniak said.

Following the shooting, politicians and members of the ruling coalition in Slovakia blamed media and opposition for the incident, which comes during a time when Slovakia is particularly polarized.

“Slovakia’s liberal opposition has long regarded Fico as authoritarian and tolerant of corruption; he lost power in 2018 after the suspicious murder of a Slovak journalist,” said Daniel Fried, Weiser Family distinguished fellow and former U.S. ambassador to Poland, in analysis for the Atlantic Council. “While both outgoing Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová and incoming President Peter Pellegrini have condemned the shooting and called for calm, the attempted assassination could inflame Slovak politics.”

Soňa Muzikárová, nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and policy leader fellow at the Florence School of Transnational Governance, said that in the hours after Wednesday’s attack Slovak officials called the incident a result of “the hate politics” spurred by the opposition.

“Deputy Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Andrej Danko, in the initial hours after the attack, stated that the governing coalition would take a tougher stance on journalists, although he was not clear on how the media had—directly or indirectly—contributed to the attack,” Muzikárová said. “These are signs that the attack might be weaponized by Fico’s cabinet against the opposition, painting liberals as the villain. The cabinet is likely to use this tragedy to further its political agenda by, for example, curbing media freedom. I expect the incident to help Fico and his affiliates capture more electoral support in the future.”