Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico escaped death ‘by just a hair’ - as ‘lone wolf’ suspect charged over shooting

16 May 2024, 15:03 | Updated: 16 May 2024, 15:20

Slovakia's prime minister escaped death 'by just a hair' according to the country's president elect Peter Pelligrini
Slovakia's prime minister escaped death 'by just a hair' according to the country's president elect Peter Pelligrini. Picture: alamy

By Will Conroy

Slovakian prime minister Robert Fido escaped death "by just a hair" according to the country's president-elect, who confirmed if the gunshot wounds sustained in the attack were a few millimetres either side, he would have died.

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Robert Fico was in surgery for several hours after he was shot at five times earlier on Wednesday afternoon, with concerns that the wounds could be fatal.

Speaking outside the hospital where Mr Fico is being treated, Peter Pellegrini said the prime minister is living "the worst hours and days of his life".

The ally of Mr Fico added: "Gunshot wounds were just a few millimetres either side, we would be talking about him as the late prime minister."

Matus Stuaj-Estok, the Slovakian interior minister, confirmed on Thursday that the suspect accused of shooting Robert Fico has been charged with attempted murder.

He also said that the attempt on Mr Fico’s life was “politically motivated”.

Mr Stuaj-Estok said the suspect, 71, was a “lone wolf” and did not belong to any political party but had previously taken part in anti-government protests.

The man has been locally named as Juraj Cintula, 71, believed to be a former security guard and poet, and faces life in prison over the attempt, according to reports.

It comes after the Slovakian deputy prime minister revealed that Prime Minister Mr Fico is “not out of the woods yet” as he continues to recover in hospital.

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The Slovakian deputy prime minister said Mr Fico was 'not out of the woods' yet.
The Slovakian deputy prime minister said Mr Fico was 'not out of the woods' yet. Picture: Alamy
Robert Fico is rushed to hospital after being shot in the stomach
Robert Fico is rushed to hospital after being shot in the stomach. Picture: Alamy

He said: “[His] condition remains serious and the medical team at the FD Roosevelt University Hospital are performing their best to move towards a positive prognosis," he said during a news conference in Bratislava.

"Unfortunately, I cannot report I have good news because the extent of the injuries sustained is so extensive that the body's response will be very difficult in the days to come."

Earlier on Thursday, the country's deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba said of Mr Fico: "I guess in the end he will survive.

"He's not in a life threatening situation at this moment."

Mr Fico was shot in the stomach and arm by a '71-year-old assassin' who was bundled to the ground by cops as he attempted to flee.

The populist politician, 59, was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, after going to meet supporters following a Slovak government meeting.

Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, speaks with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia. Later he was shot
Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico, speaks with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia. Later he was shot. Picture: Alamy

Eyewitnesses said shots were fired in front of the House of Culture, before a man was quickly pounced upon and detained by security officials.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova told reporters on Wednesday that the shooting of Mr Fico represents an "attack on democracy".

Police arrest a man after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia
Police arrest a man after Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was shot and injured following the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia. Picture: Alamy

Slovakian news site Dennik, reported that that Fico had left the building to greet people who had gathered to catch a glimpse of him before "several shots were fired". 

He then Fico reportedly fell to the ground, where the witness claimed he had wounds to his head and chest.

Robert Fico arriving for the cabinet meeting. He was shot coming out at the end
Robert Fico arriving for the cabinet meeting. He was shot coming out at the end. Picture: Alamy

President Zuzana Caputova condemned "a brutal and ruthless" attack on the premier.

She added: "I'm shocked. I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack."

Rishi Sunak tweeted: "Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family."

Joe Biden condemned the 'heinous' attempt on Mr Fico's life, adding: “Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist.”

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban said on X (formerly Twitter): "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."

Slovakian PM bundled into car after being shot

Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family."

Mr Pellegrini previously said that "an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister is a threat to everything that has adorned Slovak democracy so far.

"I am horrified by where the hatred towards another political opinion can lead. 

"We don't have to agree on everything, but there are plenty of ways to express our disagreement democratically and legally," he added.

The head of the liberal political party Progressive Slovakia, Michala Šimeček, said: "We unequivocally and strongly condemn any violence. We trust that Prime Minister Fico will be fine and that this terrible act will be brought to light as soon as possible."

Mr Fico is part of the Direction – Social Democracy party, which he founded in 1999.He resigned in 2018 amid public outcry over the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak.

Kuciak’s death, which implicated high-level corruption, sparked nationwide protests.

Mr Fico returned to power in Slovakia after elections last September, at the head of a populist-nationalist coalition.