Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico remains in life-threatening condition after being shot in the abdomen in an assassination attempt on Wednesday, government officials said.

Fico, 59, was shot five times outside a government building in the town of Handlova, according to Slovakian Interior Minister Matus Sutaj Estok.

He was raced to a hospital in Handlova, where he remains in life-threatening condition after being in surgery for over three hours, according to Slovakian Defense Minister Robert Kalinak.

"What happened today is a stigma which will haunt us for many years to come," Kalinak told reporters at a press briefing outside the hospital.

 

This image taken from video footage obtained by AFPTV shows security personnel carrying Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico (C) toward a vehicle after he was shot in Handlova on May 15, 2024.

The initial investigation suggests there was a "clear political motivation" in the shooting, and that it was plotted shortly after the recent presidential elections, Estok told reporters at the hospital press briefing.

 

Fico was conscious following the shooting, government officials said at an earlier press conference. A suspect was immediately swarmed and arrested at the scene.

"I am shocked, we are all shocked by the terrible and malicious attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico," Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova said in an address to the nation. "Something serious has happened that we can't even realize yet. A physical attack on the prime minister is primarily an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy. Any violence is unacceptable. The hateful rhetoric we witness in society leads to hateful acts. Please, let's stop it."

Caputova said the alleged attacker has been arrested and "will surely bring more information when possible."

"Until then, please don't make quick judgments, and think about the most important thing: and that's the only thing at the moment -- that Robert Fico recovers as quickly as possible," she added.

Estok said protection for constitutional officials will be strengthened in the wake of the shooting. He also called for an end to "hateful comments" on social media.

"We are standing slowly on the edge of a civil war here," Estok said. "So please, let's stop this immediately."

 

A person is detained after a shooting incident of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, after a Slovak government meeting in Handlova, Slovakia, May 15, 2024.

The U.S. Embassy in Slovakia said in a statement: "Ambassador Gautam Rana, as well as the entire team of the US Embassy in Slovakia, are shocked and horrified by the attack on the Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, Robert Fico. Our thoughts are with him, his family and the Slovak people. We strongly condemn this attack and reject any form of violence. The United States is ready to provide any assistance."

President Joe Biden condemned the attack and said the U.S. Embassy is in "close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist."

"Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia," he said in a statement. "We condemn this horrific act of violence."

Slovakia is a member of NATO. Fellow member countries, such as the Czech Republic, which borders Slovakia to the west, reacted to the assassination attempt on social media.

"The news about the shooting of Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico is shocking," Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said in a statement. "I wish the prime minister to get well as soon as possible. We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement: "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."

Fico took over as prime minister in October 2023, but had previously served in the same capacity from 2006 to 2010 and 2012 to 2018.

The longest-serving prime minister in Slovakia's history, Fico has generated controversy for taking a staunch position against providing aid to Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Slovakia shares an eastern border with Ukraine and had taken in 1.8 million refugees from Ukraine through Nov. 21, 2023, according to data collected by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.