BRATISLAVA - Slovakia’s populist Prime Minister Robert Fico is in a life-threatening condition after he was shot in the stomach and taken to hospital.

Reports said that Fico, 59, was injured after four shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova where the leader was meeting with supporters.

A witness said he heard several shots while pictures have emerged of the suspect, who is understood to be aged 71, being detained by police.

After being treated briefly at a local hospital, Fico was airlifted to Banska Bystrica Hospital where he was seen being carried on a guerney.

Peter Pellegrini, Slovakia’s president-elect and an ally of Mr Fico, has said that “an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister is a threat to everything that has adorned Slovak democracy so far.”

Mr Fico, a well-known ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is known for his tirades against journalists. He has previously labeled a major television network, two nationwide newspapers and an online news site his enemies and said he won’t communicate with them.

Key Points

- Slovak PM in a life-threatening condition after being shot

- Footage of man being detained after shooting

- In pictures: Robert Fico being transported to hospital

- Who is Robert Fico- Slovakian PM and Putin ally?

What are Fico’s policies?

During a three-decade career, Fico has moved between the pro-European mainstream and nationalistic positions opposed to EU and U.S. policies. He has also shown a willingness to change course depending on public opinion or changed political realities.

An admirer of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Fico has grown increasingly critical of Western support for Ukraine in its war with invading Russian forces and has expressed opposition to allowing Kyiv to join NATO in the future.

Fico was forced to resign as premier amid mass protests in 2018 triggered by the contract killing of Jan Kuciak, a journalist who had been invesgitating high-level corruption.

Those protests exacerbated divisions in Slovak society that still linger.

Putin says there is ‘no justification for this monstrous crime'

Russian president Vladimir Putin has responded to the shooting in Slovakia.

“There can be no justification for this monstrous crime. I know Robert Fico as a courageous and strong-minded man. I very much hope that these qualities will help him to survive this difficult situation,” he said.

“ I kindly request to convey to Prime Minister Fico the sincerest words of support, as well as wishes for a swift and full recovery,” he said in a telegram to Slovak president Zuzana Caputova.

Local media reports shooter was a former security guard with a gun licence

Slovak news media reported the shooter was a former security guard at a shopping mall, an author of three collections of poetry and a member of the Slovak Society of Writers. cited his son as saying his father was the legal holder of a gun licence.

“I have absolutely no idea what my father intended, what he planned, what happened,” news outlet quoted the shooter’s son as saying.

Eyewitness in shock after ‘nightmare’ shooting

An eyewitness has described the scene of the shooting as a “nightmare” after around four shots were fired when a gunman unleashed his weapon.

“I heard three shots, it was quick one by one like if you throw a firecracker on the ground,” eyewitness Lubica Valkovas aid.

“I think it is a nightmare, I’ll tell you I think I will not wake up from this,” the 66-year-old said. “That this is not possible to happen in Slovakia.”

Who is Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico?

Born to a working-class family in September 1964, Slovakian prime minister Robert Fico graduated with a law degree in 1986 and joined the then-ruling Communist party.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution that led to the break up of former Czechoslovakia, he worked as a government lawyer and represented Slovakia at the European Court for Human Rights.

During a three-decade career, Fico has moved between pro-European mainstream and nationalistic positions opposed to European Union and US foreign policy.

Biden condemns 'horrific act of violence' after shooting of Slovak PM

President Joe Biden condemned the attempted assassination of Slovak prime minister Robert Fico on Wednesday and said the U.S. Embassy was ready to assist the government there, according to a statement released by the White House.

“I am alarmed to hear reports of an attack on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico,” Biden said. “We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist.”

Slovakia’s PM rushed inside hospital after attempted assassination

Shooting suspect believed to be 71-year-old man

The shooting suspect who was detained at the scene is understood to be a 71-year-old man.

Pictures have emerged of him being handcuffed by security personnel after multiple shots were fired towards prime minister Robert Fico, who was hit in the abdomen.

Thomas Verniek, a reporter for Slovak news channel TA3, told Sky News that the man was part of a crowd of people who approached Mr Fico after he left the House of Culture in the town of Handlova.

He said the suspect addressed him before proceeding to shoot him multiple times.

Nato secretary general wishes Fico a ‘speedy recovery'

The Nato secretary general has condemned the attack as Robert Fico remains in hospital in a life-threatening condition.

Jens Stoltenberg said on X: “Shocked and appalled by the shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico. I wish him strength for a speedy recovery. My thoughts are with Robert Fico, his loved ones, and the people of Slovakia.”

What do we know so far?

Here’s a recap of everything we know about the shooting so far:

Slovakia’s prime minister Robert Fico was shot multiple times during a visit to the town of Handlova where he was seen greeting supporters moments before the attack.

The 59-year-old Putin ally was rushed to a local hospital and has now been airlifted to Banská Bystrica hospital.

- He is in a life-threatening condition, with the next few hours said to be crucial.

- A man was detained at the scene and is in police custody.

- European leaders have condemned the attack.

- The shooting comes just three weeks before the crucial European Union Parliament elections.