The leading candidate in Brazil’s presidential election is in a serious but stable condition after being stabbed at a campaign rally on Thursday, doctors said.
Far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial figure who has enraged many Brazilians with divisive comments, could take two months to fully recover and will spend at least a week in the hospital, said Dr Luiz Henrique Borsato, who operated on him.
“His internal wounds were grave and put the patient’s life at risk,” Borsato said, adding that a serious challenge now would be preventing an infection that could be caused by the perforation of Bolsonaro’s intestines.
Police, who were escorting the congressman at the time, were said to have caught the suspect, Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, in the act.
The 40-year-old, local police in Juiz de Fora confirmed to Reuters, is currently in custody and is believed to be mentally unstable.
A police video taken at a precinct and aired by TV Globo showed Oliveira telling officers that he had been ordered by God to carry out the attack.
“We do not know if it was politically motivated,” said Corporal Vitor Albuquerque, a spokesman for the local police.
Oliveira was affiliated with the leftwing Socialism and Liberty Party from 2007 to 2014, the party said in a written statement, in which it repudiated the violence.
TV images showed Bolsonaro being carried on someone’s shoulders in the middle of a crushing crowd of cheering supporters on one of the city’s main streets, when a knife was seen raised above heads just before it plunged into his body.
The pictures show the 63-year-old screaming in pain, then falling backward into the arms of those around him. It took a few moments for the crowd to realise what had happened, but they quickly rushed the candidate out of the street and into a vehicle.
The violence is a dramatic twist in what was already Brazil’s most unpredictable election since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago. Corruption investigations have seen scores of powerful businessmen and politicians jailed in recent years, and have alienated infuriated voters.
The attack prompted fears further violence could flare across Brazil on Friday, as the nation celebrates its Independence Day, and political groups are expected to march in hundreds of cities.
President Michel Temer and Bolsonaro’s electoral rivals Ciro Gomes, Marina Silva, and Geraldo Alckmin have expressed outrage at the attack and called off their campaigning activities on Friday.
Fernando Haddad, who will likely be the leftist Workers Party presidential candidate, said the stabbing was a “shame” and a “horror.”
Flavio Bolsonaro, the candidate’s son, told reporters outside the hospital where his father was treated that he was conscious and the attack was a political boost.
“I just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians: You just elected him president. He will win in the first round,” Flavio Bolsonaro said.
Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain, is running as the law-and-order candidate and positioned himself as the anti-politician, despite having spent nearly three decades in Congress where he has managed to author just a few laws.
He has long espoused taking a radical stance on public security in Brazil, which according to United Nations statistics has more homicides than any other country.
Bolsonaro, whose trademark pose at rallies is a “guns up” gesture with both hands to make them resemble pistols, says he would encourage police to kill suspected drug gang members and other armed criminals with abandon.
He has openly praised Brazil’s military dictatorship and in the past said it should have killed more people.
Bolsonaro also faces trial before the Supreme Court for speech that prosecutors said incited hate and rape. He has claimed the charges are “politically motivated”.