A heavily armed commando unit that assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse consisted of 26 Colombians and two Haitian-Americans, authorities said, as the search for the masterminds of the assassination continued.
Moïse, 53, was shot and killed early Wednesday at his home by what authorities said was a group of trained foreign killers, driving America’s poorest country into deeper confusion amid political divisions, hunger and widespread gang violence.
Authorities tracked the suspected killers Wednesday to a house near the crime scene in Petionville, a suburb on the north slope of the capital Port-au-Prince. A shooting lasted late into the night and authorities detained several suspects on Thursday.
Police Chief Charles León paraded 17 men before journalists at a press conference Thursday night, displaying several Colombian passports in addition to assault rifles, machetes, walkie-talkies and supplies, 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 also two Haitian Americans.”
He said that 15 Colombians were captured, as well as two Haitian Americans. Three of the assailants died and eight continued to flee, Charles said.
Eleven of the suspects were arrested after breaking into the Taiwanese embassy in Port-au-Prince, which is located near the residence where Moïse was killed, a statement from the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry said.
Early Thursday morning, embassy security discovered the “group of armed suspects”, described as “mercenaries” in the ministry statementand notified the Haitian government. Taiwan agreed “without hesitation” to allow Haitian police access, a spokeswoman said.
“The Haitian police launched an operation around 4 pm … and successfully arrested 11 suspected armed criminals. The process was straightforward and the suspects did not resist. ”The spokeswoman did not provide the nationalities of the detainees.
The embassy had been closed Wednesday as a security measure in response to the killing and staff had been working from home.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said in a statement that preliminary information indicated that the 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 party relations, Mathias Pierre, identified the Haitian-American suspects as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55.
A spokesperson for the state department could not confirm whether any US citizens were among those detained, but US authorities were in regular contact with Haitian officials, including investigative authorities, to discuss how the United States could provide assistance.
Officials from the mostly French and Creole-speaking Caribbean nation had said Wednesday that the killers appeared to have spoken in English and Spanish.
“It was a complete and well-equipped commando, with more than six cars and a lot of equipment,” said Pierre.
Authorities have yet to give a motive for the killing.
Moïse, a 53-year-old former banana exporter who took office in 2017, was killed at his family’s home in the hills above Port-au-Prince around 1 a.m. local time on Wednesday. The first lady, Martine Moïse, was also injured and later evacuated to Miami, where she is reportedly in stable condition.
According to new details that have emerged in local reports, the attackers tied up the staff and one of Moïse’s three children survived by hiding in his brother’s bedroom.
Moïse was shot at least a dozen times and died at the scene, according to Carl Henry Destin, a judicial official, who said the president’s office and bedroom were ransacked.
“We found him lying on his back, wearing blue pants, a white shirt stained with blood, his mouth open, his left eye gouged out,” Destin told Haiti’s leading newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
When the details of the daring raid emerged, Haiti was engulfed by deep political uncertainty and the streets of the capital were emptied as many residents chose to stay at home. “I really don’t know what to say … the insecurity is too much,” said Darline Garnier, a 23-year-old college student from Pétionville, near where the president was killed.
“It is 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 massacre ran wild in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the same island. Amid claims that some of those involved in the attack spoke Spanish, the Dominican newspaper Diario Libre reported that investigators were examining the possibility that some of the killers used the country to enter or flee Haiti.
And in the feverish atmosphere, competing, and as yet unverified, theories have continued to emerge, one of which suggests that a Colombian and Venezuelan assassin squad hired by powerful figures in Haiti involved in drug trafficking and other crimes had ordered the murder, or that the murder involved individuals linked to Moïse’s own security personnel.
Many people in Haiti had wanted Moïse to resign. Since taking office in 2017, he had faced calls to leave office and massive 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 long-suspended parliament, two rival interim prime ministers, one of whom was due to be sworn in in the coming days, and a constitutional loophole following his death from coronavirus. . of the head of his supreme court.
That has created confusion over who is the legitimate leader of the country of 11 million people: Joseph, who has assumed power for now, or Ariel Henry, who was appointed prime minister by Moïse just before his death and was due to be sworn in. this week.
“All the cards are up 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 where there are issues regarding who the armed forces and national police are loyal to, in the event that there are competing claims to be president of country placeholder. “
Pierre, the elections minister, said late Thursday that a presidential vote and constitutional referendum that had been scheduled for Sept. 26 before Moise’s assassination would go ahead as planned.
“That [the vote] It was not for Jovenel Moise as president, it was a requirement to achieve a more stable country, a more stable political system, so I think we will continue with that, ”said Pierre. He added that preparations have been underway for a long time and millions of dollars have been spent to carry out the voting.
Additional reporting by Helen Davidson
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism