Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico suffered life-threatening injuries on Wednesday when he was shot and wounded in an apparent assassination attempt that stunned his small Central European nation and sent shockwaves across Europe three weeks before EU Parliament elections are scheduled to be held.

A Reuters witness said they heard three or four shots as Fico exited a building to shake hands with a crowd of people who had been waiting to greet him. Police then wrestled a man to the ground. Slovak news media reported the shooter was a 71-year-old man, who 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. Slovakia’s interior minister, Matus Sutaj Estok, said in a news conference that an investigation into the attack against Fico is ongoing, and initial evidence “clearly points to a political motivation.”

Fico, 59, was rushed to a hospital in the central Slovak town of Handlova, where he had been chairing a government meeting. He was then transported by helicopter to the regional capital of Banska Bystrica for urgent treatment, read a post on his Facebook page, adding that his condition was too serious for him to be taken to Bratislava, the nation’s capital.

The shooting, caught on video by local TV, drew an immediate chorus of international condemnation, reports The Associated Press.

From outgoing Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová, Fico’s political rival: “What has happened is something that we cannot seem to realize because we cannot comprehend it. A physical attack on the prime minister is, first of all, an attack on a person, but it is also an attack on democracy. Any violence is unacceptable. Hateful rhetoric we’ve been witnessing in society leads to hateful actions. Please let’s stop it.”

President-elect Peter Pellegrini said: “An assassination attempt on one of the highest constitutional officials is an unprecedented threat to Slovak democracy. If we express different political opinions with guns in the squares, and not in polling stations, we endanger everything we have built together in 31 years of Slovak sovereignty.”

President Joe Biden said in a statement: “I am alarmed to hear reports of an attack on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Jill and I are praying for a swift recovery, and our thoughts are with his family and the people of Slovakia. We condemn this horrific act of violence. Our embassy is in close touch with the government of Slovakia and ready to assist.”

Fico has served multiple stints as Slovakia’s prime minister, most recently returning to power after winning an election in the fall. He was forced out in 2018 amid public outrage over the killing of a journalist who had been investigating ties between his associates and the Italian mafia. But, reports The Washington Post, he staged a comeback by capitalizing on growing skepticism about the war in Ukraine and frustration with a cost-of-living crisis.

Fico, a reported admirer of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has increasingly expressed opposition to allowing Ukraine to join NATO. After today’s event, Orban said, “I was deeply shocked by the heinous attack against my friend, Prime Minister Robert Fico. We pray for his health and quick recovery! God bless him and his country!”

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly sent a telegram to Čaputová, saying, “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.”

Fico’s opposition to aid for Ukraine did not stop Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from posting: “We strongly condemn this act of violence against our neighboring partner state’s head of government. Every effort should be made to ensure that violence does not become the norm in any country, form, or sphere.”

The social media post announcing the shooting said Fico’s condition was critical and that “the next few hours will decide.”