Slovakia’s Prime Minister Undergoes Further Surgery as Suspect Is Identified


Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia underwent an additional surgery, officials said on Friday, as the authorities for the first time identified the suspect in an assassination attempt that has prompted trepidation about what comes next for the deeply polarized country.

Details on Wednesday’s attack, including about the assailant and about who is leading the country while the prime minister is hospitalized, have been scant, driving a swirl of speculation and questions.

On Friday, the authorities appeared to acknowledge the scarcity of information in a statement from the General Prosecutor’s office that identified the suspect — albeit with only a first name and an initial — as Juraj C. In the statement, the prosecutor’s office said it was not possible to provide more information yet because the authorities needed to “properly clarify the sensitive matter and fairly punish the perpetrator.”

Some local news outlets had reported that an amateur poet, similarly identified as Juraj C., from the central Slovak town of Levice, was the suspect. Slovakia’s interior minister has described the suspect as a “lone wolf” radicalized after last month’s presidential election.

On Friday, news media in Slovakia reported that police officers had escorted the suspect to his home in Levice, where they searched the premises and seized documents. The police did not immediately respond to a request for comment on those reports.

Suspects can be held in jail without a court order for a maximum of 48 hours in Slovakia — and that time limit was due to elapse on Friday. A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, Zuzana Drobova, said a motion had been filed on Friday to keep the suspect in Mr. Fico’s shooting in custody for longer.

The court will consider the motion and the suspect will appear for a preliminary hearing on Saturday morning, according to Katarina Kudjakova, a court spokeswoman. She called the allegations against Juraj C. — attempted premeditated murder — “particularly serious.”

The dribble of information came after a brief update on Friday on the condition of Mr. Fico, which has also been closely guarded.

Slovakia’s deputy prime minister, Robert Kalinak, said that Mr. Fico had undergone a nearly two-hour surgery but was conscious.

“I can see progress,” he told reporters outside the hospital where Mr. Fico is being treated, adding, “I am in a much better mood now.”

According to the hospital director, Miriam Lapunikova, Mr. Fico remains in serious but stable condition. She said it was not yet known whether the prime minister would require additional procedures.

The update — the first from officials in nearly 24 hours — was unlikely to put to rest the many lingering questions in the aftermath of the attack.

The authorities have called the shooting politically motivated and urged the public and politicians to dial down political rhetoric and hatred as investigations play out.

Local news outlets reported that doctors will meet on Monday to determine whether Mr. Fico can be moved to the capital, Bratislava, from the intensive care unit of the hospital in central Slovakia where he has undergone surgery. Mr. Kalinak, though, said on Friday that it was too soon to start thinking about that.

“It’s a serious situation,” Mr. Kalinak said, expressing “full trust” in the medical team at the hospital, in the city of Banska Bystrica.

He emphasized that the government was carrying on, telling the news conference that “all our work and tasks are being done.” But Mr. Kalinak appeared to dodge a question about who exactly is making high-level decisions for the government. There has been no formal announcement about who is in charge in Mr. Fico’s absence, although Slovak news media have quoted ministers saying that Mr. Kalinak had been leading meetings.

Referring to Mr. Fico, Mr. Kalinak said, “He is still the prime minister and is acting in the capacity he can,” though he noted that the capacity was limited.

“I have never seen a stronger man,” Mr. Kalinak added.

The authorities are mounting two investigations into the assassination attempt — one into the attacker, the other into the response of security forces at the scene — and urged against rushing to judgment.

Slovak officials have acknowledged that there is criticism over the actions of officers. 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.

The inquiries are unfolding against a backdrop of deep political divisions in Slovakia. Mr. Fico has been pushing a strongly contested overhaul of the judiciary to limit the scope of corruption investigations, and he has moved to reshape the national broadcasting system to purge what the government calls liberal bias.

And senior officials in Mr. Fico’s governing Smer party have, in effect, accused liberal journalists and opposition politicians of motivating the assassination attempt through their intense criticism of government actions. Still, Peter Pellegrini, an ally of Mr. Fico’s who was elected to the largely ceremonial role of president last month, has been among the loudest voices calling for calm.

The rampant speculation over the attacker’s identity and motivations has prompted the Interior Ministry to repeatedly warn against spreading “unverified” details.

The ministry said late Thursday that “a large amount of misinformation” was circulating about the attack. On an existing ministry website dedicated to fighting hoaxes, it labeled a number of unconfirmed news reports — that the suspect was a member of a Slovak paramilitary group, that his wife was a Ukrainian refugee — as “not true” but did not offer up anything verifiable.

As officials warned that tensions risked spilling over, some in Slovakia were expressing concerns not only about whether Mr. Fico might yet die but also about what actions he might take should he recover enough to fully resume his duties.

“The polarization is very present in the society today and will get worse after this attack,” said Hana Klistincova, 34, a translator interviewed in Bratislava. “I personally am not afraid that the attack could repeat itself — it was the impulsive behavior of one individual — but I am afraid of the impact that this will have on society because of our coalition leaders, who started blaming the opposition and the media right after.”

Veronika Kladivikova, a 27-year-old seamstress from Banska Stiavnica, a small town in central Slovakia, said she was horrified by the attack.

“Even families are divided. I feel it in my own family,” she said, as she watched her child play in a sandbox at the park.

But she said that she was “not afraid right now,” adding, “I hope people will be sensible enough not to panic, or be even more against each other, divided.”

Sara Cincurova contributed reporting from Bratislava.



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