Yesterday’s attempted assassination of Slovakia’s Prime Minister has sparked fears that Europe may see another ‘Franz Ferdinand’ moment amid soaring political tensions and an ever-deepening East-West divide. 

The murder of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke and his wife as they drove through Sarajevo on a summer’s day in 1914 is widely seen as the catalyst that triggered World War I and led to the deaths of some 20 million people. 

Now almost 110 years later, Slovakian Premier Robert Fico is fighting for his life in critical condition after he was shot five times in a ‘politically motivated’ assassination attempt outside government offices as he greeted supporters north-east of the capital Bratislava.

The shooter, 71-year-old Juraj Cintula from Levice, could be seen waiting at a barrier for the PM to approach before drawing his weapon in footage published by Slovak outlet RTV Prievidza.

Despite being flanked by five guards, Cintula managed to fire off five shots at point-blank range before being taken down by the PM’s security detail. The prime minister was rushed to a nearby hospital in a helicopter following the shooting and underwent lifesaving surgery.

The heinous attack on the pro-Putin PM – who is an outspoken critic of Western support for Kyiv and ran an anti-American and anti-EU campaign for his re-election – comes at arguably the most delicate time in recent European history, as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages just across the Slovakian border.

Now there are concerns that the attempt on Fico’s life could create another domino effect and serve as a prelude to a catastrophic clash between Russia and Europe.  

Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico (pictured) is fighting for his life in hospital following an assassination attempt on Wednesday 

Security scrambled to tackle the shooter, 71-year-old Juraj Cintula from Levice, to the ground

Security scrambled to tackle the shooter, 71-year-old Juraj Cintula from Levice, to the ground

An individual from within the crowd can be seen lunging forward, with a gun in hand as he begins shooting in the direction of the PM who is out of the camera frame

An individual from within the crowd can be seen lunging forward, with a gun in hand as he begins shooting in the direction of the PM who is out of the camera frame 

The prime minister was airlifted to a nearby hospital after suffering gunshot wounds to the arm and stomach

The prime minister was airlifted to a nearby hospital after suffering gunshot wounds to the arm and stomach

Slovak Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok speaks during a press conference at F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated

Slovak Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok speaks during a press conference at F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is being treated

Slovak Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said we must put our trust 'in the hands of the medical specialists', as he appealed to the public to 'pray' for Fico's recovery

Slovak Defence Minister Robert Kalinak said we must put our trust ‘in the hands of the medical specialists’, as he appealed to the public to ‘pray’ for Fico’s recovery

Mr Kalinak continued that 'no one wants a Slovakia like this' and he can't 'find the words' for the 'madness' that is being witnessed

Mr Kalinak continued that ‘no one wants a Slovakia like this’ and he can’t ‘find the words’ for the ‘madness’ that is being witnessed

Graphic depicting the events following the shooting of Slovakian PM Robert Fico

Graphic depicting the events following the shooting of Slovakian PM Robert Fico

Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment, the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence unit, told The Mail last night: ‘There are high stakes in Europe and the threat of a wider war only benefits Putin.

‘This is yet another wake-up call to the West. If we ignore this latest threat to Western security the chances of getting drawn into a wider war in Europe are manifestly greater.’

Thus far, it appears cooler heads have prevailed, with Slovakia’s opposition appealing for calm and calling off planned protests.  

Slovakia’s deputy prime minister Tomas Taraba said this morning that Mr Fico is ‘not in [a] life-threatening situation at this moment’.

‘As far as I know, the operation went well and I guess that at the end he will survive,’ he told the BBC.

Yesterday, the country’s interior minister Matus Sutaj Estok suggested during a press conference outside the hospital treating Fico that preliminary information ‘clearly’ points to a ‘political motivation’.

Fico was re-elected for the fourth time last October off the back of an anti-EU and has since supported a more pro-Russia position, including most recently by pledging to stop military support for Ukraine. 

He declared in January that his country would halt its military aid – a major blow for Ukraine as the two countries share Soviet-era designs, meaning that Slovak stocks of everything from bullets and tank rounds to spare parts for fighter jets fit seamlessly into what Ukrainians need.

He also unveiled a slew of other more authoritarian plans, including a crackdown on the press that precipitated the scrapping of public broadcaster RTVS.

Thousands of demonstrators have rallied in the capital and elsewhere to protest against such measures, including plans to amend the penal code to eliminate a special anti-corruption prosecutor.

Russian president Putin – who is currently in Beijing to strengthen ties with China – spoke highly of Fico, who like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has expressed disdain at the West’s involvement in the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

‘I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation,’ Putin said.

The alleged assassin 71-year-old Juraj Cintula, from Levice

The alleged assassin 71-year-old Juraj Cintula, from Levice

Harrowing footage captured the moment Robert Fico’s security officials lunged over a barrier to take down the shooter

Russian president Vladimir Putin – who is currently in Beijing to strengthen ties with China – spoke highly of Fico who was elected off the back of an anti-EU campaign and has since pledged to end his nation's delivery of military aid to Kyiv

Russian president Vladimir Putin – who is currently in Beijing to strengthen ties with China – spoke highly of Fico who was elected off the back of an anti-EU campaign and has since pledged to end his nation’s delivery of military aid to Kyiv

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands prior to talks in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands prior to talks in Beijing, China, on Thursday, May 16, 2024

Speaking prior to Fico’s surgery, defence minister Robert Kalinak said there was ‘no good news at the moment’ and that he had placed trust ‘in the hands of the medical specialists’ as he appealed to the public to ‘pray’ for Fico’s recovery.

Mr Kalinak continued that ‘no one wants a Slovakia like this’ and he can’t ‘find the words’ for the ‘madness’ that is being witnessed.

In videos published online, Fico can be seen stumbling backwards after the first shot, before tripping over a bench behind him and falling to the ground, as armed security piles in from all sides.

Onlookers can be seen jumping back in horror and scrambling to avoid further gunfire. 

Moments later, a black car came screeching into view and security guards hauled the prime minister’s slumped body into the back seat and drove him to meet an air ambulance. 

Shortly after news of the shooting broke, world leaders began to send well-wishes to the PM while condemning the attack. 

US President Joe Biden condemned the shooting as a ‘horrific act of violence,’ adding that he and First Lady Jill Biden ‘are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia.’

Russian President Putin called the attach a ‘heinous crime’, adding: ‘I know Robert Fico to be a courageous and strong-spirited man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to withstand this difficult situation’.

French President Macron offered ‘solidarity’ with Slovakia and German Chancellor Scholz called for the ‘end to violence in politics’.  

A witness told Slovakian news site Dennik that Fico had left the building to greet people who had gathered to catch a glimpse of him before ‘several shots were fired’.

Juraj Cintula, 71, is a writer and founder member of a literary club. His son was quoted as telling local media: 'I have no idea what father intended, what he planned, why it happened. Maybe there was some short circuit'

Juraj Cintula, 71, is a writer and founder member of a literary club. His son was quoted as telling local media: ‘I have no idea what father intended, what he planned, why it happened. Maybe there was some short circuit’

A general view of the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital where Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico is undergoing operation

A general view of the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital where Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is undergoing operation

A black car was seen speeding around to the scene of the attack before the PM was bundled in

A black car was seen speeding around to the scene of the attack before the PM was bundled in

The man accused of shooting PM Robert Fico is a writer, poet and founder member of a literary club, it emerged yesterday.

Shocked neighbours of Juraj Cintula, 71, described him and his wife as ‘fantastic’.

His son was quoted as telling local media:’ I have no idea what father intended, what he planned, why it happened. Maybe there was some short circuit.’

It has also emerged that in 2016, while working as a security guard in a supermarket in Levice where he lives, he was attacked by a man and left badly bruised.

A TV interview with Cintula from the time shows him with a black eye in the clip he said of his attacker:’ He was drugged. He started throwing chickens from the shelves onto the ground, then he started juggling them.’

The man then began punching and kicking Cintula before police arrived and his attacker was taken away.

Cintula, who was chairman of the Duha Literary Club until he left in 2016 wrote three poems which were posted onto the club’s Facebook page.

They were called Dream of a Rebel, Diptych and Wasps and he is also a member of the Association of Slovak Writers.

Police work at the scene after a shooting incident in which Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was wounded by five gun shots, police confirmed

Police work at the scene after a shooting incident in which Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was wounded by five gun shots, police confirmed

Forensics teams set up outside the House of Culture in Handlova

Forensics teams set up outside the House of Culture in Handlova

An emergency services helicopter takes off from the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital

An emergency services helicopter takes off from the F. D. Roosevelt University Hospital

Police and security officers stand guard outside F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was taken after he was wounded in a shooting incident in Handlova

Police and security officers stand guard outside F.D. Roosevelt University Hospital, where Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico was taken after he was wounded in a shooting incident in Handlova

Robert Fico (pictured centre) being carried away by security officials into a car after he was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, following a Slovak government meeting

Robert Fico (pictured centre) being carried away by security officials into a car after he was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava, following a Slovak government meeting

Fico was shot following a government meeting on Wednesday outside the House of Culture in Handlova and was pictured being moved into a car by security officials

The Prime Minister of Slovakia Robert Fico has been ‘shot and wounded’

Cintula has however posted several political videos on YouTube and Facebook.

In one from eight years ago he said:’ The world is full of violence and weapons. People seem to be going crazy.

‘A number of migrants are flowing into Europe, there is hatred and extremism everywhere. But worst of all, the governments of European states have no alternative to this chaos. But that’s what a person is after all.’

He also said that he was founding an anti violence movement in Levice.

He said in one clip: ‘Every normal person rejects violence. Our goal is to unite people, preserve peace and restore democracy. It is very difficult because no one trusts anyone anymore. The world is full of chaos and hatred.’

On its Facebook page, which includes Cintula’s email, The Movement Against Violence describes itself as a ’emerging political party whose goal is to prevent the spread of violence in society. To prevent war in Europe and the spread of hatred.’

The last post is from April 2022, a few weeks after the start of the war in Ukraine and says:’ What Slavic brotherhood? There is only the aggressor and the attacked.’

The alleged assailant was detained by cops at the scene

The alleged assailant was detained by cops at the scene

The gunman is allegedly 71-year-old Juraj C

The gunman is allegedly 71-year-old Juraj C

The attacker was pushed to the ground and handcuffed

The attacker was pushed to the ground and handcuffed

Robert Fico is in 'life threatening condition' according to a message posted to his Facebook following the attack

Robert Fico is in ‘life threatening condition’ according to a message posted to his Facebook following the attack

One person present at the shooting on Wednesday told Romania’s Digi24: ‘We went to shake hand to mister Fico, I was taking pictures of him when he walked out of the building, we were waiting for long time, we were excited, we wanted to shake his hand, even one man next to me, and at this moment we heard something like a petard, we thought someone made a joke and threw a firecracker on the ground, that was my first reaction,’ she said.

Who is Robert Fico?

Robert Fico, 59, is the current Prime Minister of Slovakia, having served since September 2023.

He previously served from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018.   

Fico was forced to step down as prime minister following the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak in 2018. 

He founded the Direction – Social Democracy (Smer) party in 1999 and has led the party since its foundation.

He holds a record as the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, having served for a total of over 10 years.  

‘I heard three shots, it was quick one by one like if you throw a firecracker on the ground,’ she added.

When asked by a journalist if she had seen his injuries, she responded: ‘Yes I saw a scratch on a head and then he fell next to the barrier. 

‘I think it is a nightmare, I’ll tell you I think I will not wake up from this. That this is not possible to happen in Slovakia.’

Following the shock attack, Peter Pellegrini, Slovakia’s president-elect and an ally of Robert Fico, has 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.’ 

Fico has been serving as the PM of Slovakia since September 2023, having returned to power after serving previously from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018.

During his run in 2016, the leader commented on Brexit saying it was unclear what the United Kingdom wanted, adding that it ‘must suffer’ more than the 27 countries who will remain in the bloc.

The PM was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava

The PM was shot in Handlova, north-east of Bratislava

Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia. He is pictured covered in a white sheet

Rescue workers take Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, who was shot and injured, to a hospital in the town of Banska Bystrica, central Slovakia. He is pictured covered in a white sheet

Robert Fico pictured speaking with people before the cabinet's away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia

Robert Fico pictured speaking with people before the cabinet’s away-from-home session in the town of Handlova, Slovakia

It is not currently known what the shooter's motives were behind the attack

It is not currently known what the shooter’s motives were behind the attack

Czech PM, Petr Fiala said: 'We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society'

Czech PM, Petr Fiala said: ‘We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society’

Law enforcement arrives at the scene of the gun attack which saw the prime minister shot

Law enforcement arrives at the scene of the gun attack which saw the prime minister shot

Following Wednesday’s shooting, Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova condemned ‘a brutal and ruthless’ attack on the premier.

‘I’m shocked,’ Ms Caputova said. 

‘I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack.’

Deputy speaker of parliament Lubos Blaha confirmed the incident during a session of Parliament and adjourned it until further notice, the Slovak TASR news agency said.

Czech PM, Petr Fiala, responded to the attack on X, formerly Twitter, posting: ‘The news about the shooting Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is shocking.

‘I wish the prime minister to get well as soon as possible. We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society.’

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also shared a message to X, relaying his shock following the gun attack.

‘Shocked to hear this awful news. All our thoughts are with Prime Minister Fico and his family,’ he wrote.

Ukraine’s PM, Volodymyr Zelensky said: ‘The attack on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico is appalling.

‘We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighbouring partner state’s head of government. Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere. 

‘We sincerely hope Robert Fico recovers soon and express our solidarity with the people of Slovakia’.

Parliament was sitting at the time of the attack and local Slovak media reported that a party colleague of Fico’s shouted at opposition MPs, accusing them of inciting the attack. 

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