Haitian police have arrested six suspects and killed seven others as authorities in the Caribbean nation continue the manhunt for the conspirators involved in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, according to official reports.
Moïse, 53, was killed at his home in an attack in the wee hours of Wednesday morning on his Port-au-Prince home that left his wife severely injured. The president’s death came as Haiti has been enduring a rise in kidnappings and killings amid escalating social and political upheaval and as some citizens no longer viewed Moïse’s presidency as legally legitimate, believing his term should have ended in February of this year. In the aftermath of the president’s death, Haiti has fallen into a deeper crisis as uncertainty about who is leading the country grows.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a “state of siege” after the assassination, closing the country’s borders and imposing martial law, however, his authority has been questioned by some after Moïse named a new prime minister just days before his death, one who had not yet been sworn in. The president of the Supreme Court would typically be next in line to replace the president, but he recently died of COVID-19.
Haitian authorities say police zeroed in on a home in the neighborhood of the president’s residence Wednesday evening in looking for the assassins, and the subsequent prolonged gunfight left seven suspects dead. Two of the six suspects in custody were apprehended by police as they were being marched down a street by local civilians on Thursday, although it was not clear how the crowd knew how the two men, who appeared to be Hispanic, were involved in the assassination.
Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., Bocchit Edmond, told CNN on Thursday morning that he has “no doubt” the gunmen, who are believed to be foreigners, assassinated Moïse with internal help.
“The most important thing is we need to continue with the investigations and look and identify those who financed them, those who paid them to commit this horrible act,” Edmond said. One of the suspects arrested is James Solages, a U.S. citizen. Two of the detainees, including Solages, are Haitian-American. Solages, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, described himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,” and claims he used to work as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti, The Associated Press reported.
Haiti’s police chief, Léon Charles told local news that 28 attackers had been identified, including 26 Colombians and two Haitians. Several suspects are retired Colombian soldiers, and the group of gunmen has been described as “professional killers.” The Colombian suspects are believed to have arrived through the Dominican Republic.
The president’s wife, Martine Moïse, is being treated for her injuries in Miami and is said to be in stable condition.
Edmond stopped short of speculating a motive for the assassination but said, “it’s certain that the head of state cannot be killed just for play.”
Edmond continued, “We do hope that the national police will continue to hunt them down because possibly there were more than six. We are trying to see how we can make sure that those are caught and identified and be brought to justice.”
Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe said Moise was shot 16 times, adding that he had “a lot of enemies.”
Edmond described the gunmen as “well-trained killers,” who likely had help from Haitian nationals, because of the vehicles used to gain access to the president’s residence from underground.
“If you take the logistics for example, the cars, to go all the way to the president’s residence, I believe they get it underground. Therefore, there is no doubt about it there is some internal help,” he said.
Footage shows that the gunmen, who were speaking English and Spanish, identified themselves as Drug and Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, although Edmond said he believes that was a masquerade.
The U.S. supported Moïse’s claim to a fifth year of his term, which wouldn’t have ended until 2022.
President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination,” and condemned “this heinous act.”
“The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti,” Biden said in a statement.