By FABIOLA SANCHEZ and CHRISTOPHER TOOTHAKER Associated Press
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Two officials from the U.S. Embassy suffered gunshot wounds early Tuesday during an altercation at a strip club in Venezuela’s crime-ridden capital, police and U.S. State Department officials said. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening.
The circumstances of the shooting were unclear, with conflicting reports over whether it happened inside or outside the Antonella 2012 nightclub.
Police said the two U.S. officials were shot following a brawl inside the club, which is in the basement of a shopping center in the upper-middle-class Chacao neighborhood. A woman who works at the club said the two men got into a fight with each other.
The club’s Twitter account features racy photos of nude or scantily clad women pole dancing, posing inside cages or reclining on beds. The text under one photo invites visitors to come and watch the club’s “sexy show.”
“Apparently it was a fight originating in a nightspot where these people were attacked and shots were fired at them and they suffered gunshot wounds,” police spokesman Douglas Rico told TV channel Globovision at the health clinic where the victims were taken. He said one was shot in the leg and abdomen and the other was shot in the abdomen.
A police official identified one of the victims as military attache Roberto Ezequiel Rosas. She said he was shot in the right leg during an argument outside the night club in Chacao, which is east of the city center.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to release the information publicly, said she had no information on suspects.
Deisy Ron, who identified herself as the club’s artistic director, told The Associated Press that she wasn’t at work when the shooting happened, but said employees she supervises told her that the men got into an argument and started throwing punches inside the club.
“They were fighting with each other,” she said. “One of them pulled out a gun and shot the other in the stomach and the leg.”
Ron said she didn’t know how the other man was injured or how he managed to bring a firearm inside the club, which has metal detectors at the entrance.
In Washington, State Department spokesman William Ostick confirmed that “two members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were injured during an incident early this morning.”
“Medical staff inform us that their injuries do not appear to be life- threatening,” Ostick said. “Embassy security and health unit personnel are at the hospital and have been in touch with the two individuals and their families.”
Patrick Ventrell, another State Department spokesman, told reporters that the incident happened in “some sort of social spot or somewhere outside of the embassy grounds.”
“I am not sure if it was a restaurant, or a nightclub, or what the actual establishment was, but that is why we are in touch with embassy personnel,” he said.
An Associated Press reporter who went to the scene saw no obvious signs of a shooting, though plain-clothes police officers were investigating the area outside the club.
A Spanish sign saying “gun-free zone” and with a pistol crossed out was posted next to the entrance. Another sign said the club doesn’t allow entry to couples, unaccompanied women or anyone under 30 years old.
Crime is a serious problem for Venezuela, which has one of the world’s highest homicide rates.
Venezuela’s government expelled two U.S. military attaches in March for allegedly talking to members of the country’s armed forces. Washington responded by ejecting two Venezuelan diplomats.
Associated Press writers Karl Ritter in Caracas and Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.