A heavily armed commando unit that assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise this week comprised 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, authorities said on Thursday, as the hunt went on for the masterminds of the brazen killing.
Moise, 53, was fatally shot early on Wednesday at his home by what officials said was a group of foreign, trained killers, pitching the poorest country in the Americas deeper into turmoil amid political divisions, hunger and widespread gang violence.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano said initial findings indicated that Colombians suspected of taking part in the assassination were retired members of his country’s armed forces, and pledged to support the investigations in Haiti.
Police tracked the suspected assassins on Wednesday to a house near the scene of the crime in Petionville, a northern, hillside suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
A firefight lasted late into the night and authorities detained a number of suspects on Thursday.
Police Chief Leon Charles paraded 17 men before journalists at a news conference late on Thursday, showing 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, noting there were 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans.
He revealed that 15 of the Colombians were captured, as were the Haitian Americans. Three of the assailants were killed and eight were still on the run, Charles said.
Jorge Luis Vargas, director of Colombia’s national police, said he had received information requests from Haiti on six suspects, two of whom had apparently been killed in an exchange with Haitian police. The other four were under arrest.
The foreign ministry in Taiwan, which maintains formal diplomatic ties with Haiti, said 11 of the suspects were captured at its embassy after they broke in.
Haiti’s minister of elections and interparty relations, Mathias Pierre, identified the Haitian-American suspects as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55.
A State Department spokesman could not confirm if any U.S. citizens were among those detained, but U.S. authorities were in contact with Haitian officials, including investigators, to discuss how the United States could assist.
Officials in the mostly French- and Creole-speaking Caribbean nation said on Wednesday the assassins appeared to have spoken in English and Spanish.
“It was a full, well-equipped commando (raid), with more than six cars and a lot of equipment,” Pierre said.
Officials have not yet given a motive for the killing. Since taking office in 2017, Moise had faced mass protests against his rule – first over corruption allegations and his management of the economy, then over his increasing grip on power.
An angry crowd gathered on Thursday morning to watch the police operation unfold, with some setting fire to the suspects’ cars and to the house where they had hunkered down. Bullet casings were strewn in the street. Read More