CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela's National Assembly president said his Twitter account was taken over on Saturday in an online attack that unleashed a series of bogus messages saying a coup was under way.
Diosdado Cabello, a close ally of President Hugo Chavez, said on state television that his account has been blocked to prevent more false messages, and later said he had recovered control of the account.
"Our Twitter account was hacked by the Venezuelan right. We're sure of it," Cabello said, according to the state news agency.
An initial out-of-the-ordinary message on the account Saturday had said that factions of the national intelligence agency and the military were rising up against the government while Chavez "is in Cuba on the verge of death." Other messages called for Chavez's supporters to "defend the revolution" outside the presidential palace.
One message called for Defense Minister Henry Rangel Silva to "execute the squalid ones," a term Chavez uses for his adversaries. It went on to say that "if the revolution is in danger there will be blood," and said that opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles "is behind the coup."
The tweets circulated widely until state media and government officials announced that Cabello's account had been seized.
Justice Minister Tareck El Aissami announced on Twitter that "we now have control of the account."
Cabello is considered one of the most influential leaders of Chavez's United Socialist Party of Venezuela, of which he is a vice president.
It's unclear what purposes such a cyber-attack might serve, and officials said they were investigating. The incident occurred less than a month before the Oct. 7 presidential election, in which Chavez is seeking another six-year term.
Such seizures of Twitter accounts have become an increasingly frequent smear tactic in highly polarized Venezuela. Some well-known Chavez critics last year also had their accounts taken over, and a group calling itself "N33" claimed responsibility for some of those attacks.
Some of the victims last year included an activist, a humorist, three journalists, a TV show host, an ex-diplomat and a former Chavez supporter, all of them openly critical of the president.
Both Twitter and Google say such attacks most likely involve phishing, a form of Internet fraud in which victims are tricked into revealing passwords or other personal information through emails with links to pages that appear to be authentic. Once a victim enters a password for Twitter or an email account on a fraudulent page, hackers are able to use it to take over the real account and change the password.
Chavez has undergone multiple cancer treatments in Cuba since June 2011, including two surgeries that removed tumors. In the past few months, Chavez has said that tests show he is free of the disease.