A heavily armed command unit that assassinated Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was composed of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, authorities have said as the hunt continues on the brains for the killing.
Moïse, 53, was fatally shot early Wednesday in his home by what officials said was a group of foreign, educated killers who plunged the poorest country in America deeper into unrest amid political divisions, hunger and widespread gang violence.
Authorities tracked down the suspected assassins Wednesday to a house near the crime scene in Petionville, a northern suburb of a hill in the capital, Port-au-Prince. A firefight lasted well into the night and authorities detained a number of suspects Thursday.
Police Chief Charles Leon paraded 17 men in front of reporters at a news conference late Thursday, showing off a number of Colombian passports plus assault rifles, machetes, walkie-talkies and materials including bolt cutters and hammers.
“Foreigners came to our country to kill the president,” Charles said. “There were 26 Colombians identified by their passports and two Haitian Americans as well.”
He said 15 Colombians were captured as well as two Haitian Americans. Three of the attackers were killed and eight remained on the run, Charles said.
Eleven of the suspects were arrested after breaking into the Taiwan Embassy in Port-au-Prince, which sits near the residence where Moïse was killed, a statement from Taiwan’s foreign ministry said.
Early on Thursday morning, embassy security discovered the “group of armed suspects” described as “mercenaries” in the ministry’s statement and informed the Haitian government. Taiwan agreed “without hesitation” to give Haitian police access, a spokeswoman said.
“The Haitian police launched an operation around noon. 16 … and successfully arrested 11 suspected armed criminals. The process was smooth and the suspects did not object. “The spokeswoman did not state the nationalities of the arrested men.
The embassy had been closed on Wednesday as a precautionary measure in response to the murder, and staff had been working from home.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said in a statement that preliminary information showed that Colombians involved in the attack were retired members of the country’s military. He said Bogotá would cooperate in the investigation.
Haiti’s Minister of Elections and Relations between the parties, Mathias Pierre, identified the Haitian-American suspects as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55.
A State Department spokesman could not confirm whether any U.S. citizens were among those detained, but U.S. authorities were in regular contact with Haitian officials, including investigating authorities, to discuss how the United States could provide assistance.
Officials in the mostly French- and Creole-speaking Caribbean nation had said on Wednesday that the assassins appeared to have spoken in English and Spanish.
“It was a full, well-equipped command with more than six cars and a lot of equipment,” Pierre said.
Officials have not yet given a motive for the killing.
Moïse, a 53-year-old former banana exporter who joined in 2017, was murdered in his family home in the hills above Port-au-Prince around 1 p.m. 1 local time Wednesday. The first lady, Martine Moïse, was also injured and later evacuated to Miami, where she is reportedly in a stable condition.
According to new details revealed in local reports, the attackers bound staff, and one of Moses’ three children survived by hiding in his brother’s bedroom.
Moïse was shot at least a dozen times and died on the spot, according to Carl Henry Destin, an official who said the president’s office and bedroom were searched.
“We found him lying on his back with blue trousers, a white blood-colored shirt, his mouth open, his left eye pulled out,” Destin Haiti’s main newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, reported.
As the details of the daring raid surfaced, Haiti was surrounded by deep political uncertainty and the capital streets were emptied as many residents chose to stay at home. “I really do not know what to say … the uncertainty is too much,” said Darline Garnier, a 23-year-old college student from Pétionville near where the president was killed.
“It’s a humiliation for our nation,” said Luckner Meronvil, a 46-year-old taxi driver, with tears in his eyes as he spoke.
Theories about who was behind the killing ran wild in Haiti and in the nearby Dominican Republic, which shares the same island. Amid allegations that some of those involved in the attack had spoken Spanish, the Dominican paper Diario Libre reported that investigators were investigating the possibility that some of the killers may have used the country to gain access to or flee Haiti.
And in the feverish atmosphere, there are still competing – and so far unconfirmed – theories, one suggesting that a hit group of Colombians and Venezuelans contracted powerful people in Haiti involved in drug trafficking and other crime had ordered the killing, or that killing involved individuals attached to Moses’ own security staff.
Many people in Haiti had wanted Moïse to resign. Since taking over in 2017, he has faced calls to leave office and mass protests, first over allegations of corruption and his management of the economy and then over his growing grip on power.
On Thursday, Haitians woke up to a country without a head of state with a parliament that had long been suspended, two rival interim prime ministers – one of whom was to swear in the coming days – and a constitutional legal vacuum following the coronavirus death of the head of its supreme court.
It has created confusion about who is the legitimate leader of the country of 11 million people – Joseph, who has taken power so far, or Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister by Moïse just before his death and was to be sworn in this week.
“All the cards are in the air,” Fatton said of the apparent fight between Henry and Joseph.
Ryan Berg, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said: “I can imagine a scenario in which there are questions about who the armed forces and the national police are loyal to, in the event that there are rival demands to be placeholder president. of the country. ”
Election Minister Pierre said Thursday night that a presidential referendum as well as a constitutional referendum scheduled for Sept. 26 before the assassination of Moise would continue as planned.
“That [the vote] was not for Jovenel Moise as president – it was a requirement to have a more stable country, a more stable political system, so I think we will continue with that, “said Pierre. He added that preparations had long been underway and that millions of dollars had been paid out to carry out the votes.
Additional reporting from Helen Davidson