A 28-member hit squad — including 26 Colombians and two US citizens — carried out the stunning assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, officials announced Thursday, adding that 17 have been detained, including the Americans.
“We are going to bring them to justice,” National Police Chief Léon Charles said, as the 17 handcuffed suspects sat on the floor during a news conference a day after Moïse was killed and his wife, Martine, was critically wounded at their home.
Fifteen of the detainees are from Colombia and two others are South Floridians believed to hold dual US-Haitian citizenship, Charles said.
“It was a team of 28 assailants, 26 of whom were Colombian, who carried out the operation to assassinate the president,” Charles said at the news conference in Port-au-Prince.
Enlarge ImageSuspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, among them Haitian-American citizens James Solages (left) and Joseph Vincent (second from left), during a media show.AP
“We have arrested 15 Colombians and the two Americans of Haitian origin. Three Colombians have been killed while eight others are on the loose,” added Charles, who had earlier said seven suspects were killed.
Minister of Elections Mathias Pierre identified the Americans as James Solages, 35, of Fort Lauderdale, and Joseph Vincent, 55, from the Miami area, the Miami Herald reported.
Police officers patrol in search of suspects in the murder Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince.AP
In an undated video interview in Creole, Solages described himself as a philanthropist and child advocate who enjoyed helping kids from the area where he grew up in southeast Haiti, according to the Herald.
Solages described himself as a “certified diplomatic agent” and budding politician on a website for a charity he launched in 2019 in South Florida to assist people in the Haitian town of Jacmel.
On his bio page for the charity, he said he previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti.
In a statement, Canada’s foreign relation department did not refer to Solages by name but said one of the men detained in the assassination had been “briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard” at its embassy by a private contractor.
Pierre identified four of the other suspects arrested so far, all Colombians, as Alejandro Girardo Zapata, 41, John Jairo Ramirez Gomez, 40, Victor Albeiro Pinera Cardona, 40, and Manuel Antonio Groso Guarin, 41, the Herald reported.
Colombia’s government said it had been asked about six of the suspects, including two of those killed, and had determined they were retired members of its military. It didn’t release their identities.
Soldiers patrol in Petion Ville, the neighborhood where Haitian President Jovenel Moise lived in Port-au-Prince.AP
Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, head of the Colombian national police, said President Iván Duque had ordered the high command of the army and police to cooperate in the probe.
“A team was formed with the best investigators … they are going to send dates, flight times, financial information that is already being collected to be sent to Port-au-Prince,” Vargas said.
The US State Department said it was aware of reports that US citizens were in custody but could not confirm or comment.
Earlier in the day, a crowd in the neighborhood of Petion-Ville near the president’s private residence in Port-au-Prince captured two foreigners presumed to be involved in the deadly attack, Charles said.
A video posted on social media shows the crowd pulling two men, one of whom was shirtless and bound with a rope, the Herald reported.
The police take two detainees to the police station of Petion Ville.AP
“Advance! Advance!” someone is heard shouting as the crowd shoves the two men.
Witnesses said the crowd discovered the suspects hiding in bushes in Port-au-Prince, and that some people grabbed the men by their shirts and pants, pushed them and occasionally slapped them.
An Associated Press journalist saw officers put the suspects in the back of a pickup and drive away as the crowd ran after them to a police station.
“They killed the president! Give them to us! We’re going to burn them,” people yelled outside.
The crowd set fire to several abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes that they believed belonged to the gunmen. Inside one of the vehicles, which didn’t have license plates, was an empty box of ammunition and some water.
Police guard detained suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise.AP
Charles urged people to remain calm and let his officers do their work, adding that authorities needed evidence that was being destroyed.
Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Friday that Haitian police had arrested 11 armed suspects on the grounds of the Taiwanese embassy in Port-au-Prince after they fled there.
“The police launched an operation around 4 p.m. (Thursday) and successfully arrested 11 suspects,” the embassy said, adding it had agreed to a police request to search the grounds “without hesitation,” AFP reported.
“As for whether the suspects were involved in the assassination of the President of Haiti, that will need to be investigated by the Haitian police,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou told The Associated Press in Taipei.
Haiti is one of a handful of countries that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of the rival mainland Chinese government in Beijing.
Officials have given out little information on the assassination, other than to say the brazen attack was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group.”
Photos: Life and death of Haiti President Jovenel Moise
But not everyone was buying the government’s description of the attack in the impoverished country of some 11 million people.
When Haitian journalist Robenson Geffrard tweeted a report on comments by the police chief, he was inundated with responses expressing skepticism — as many wondered how the suspects could penetrate Moïse’s home, security detail and panic room and escape unharmed but then be caught without planning a successful getaway.
Haitian Judge Carl Henry Destin, who is involved in the probe, said the president was shot a dozen times and his office and bedroom were ransacked, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste.
The outlet quoted Destin as saying investigators found 5.56 and 7.62mm cartridges between the gatehouse and inside the residence.
Moïse’s daughter, Jomarlie Jovenel, hid in her brother’s bedroom during the assault, and a maid and another worker were tied up by the gunmen, Destin said.
Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was allegedly killed by a group of people who had entered his private residence.Orlando Barría/EPA-EFE/Shutters
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who assumed leadership of the country with the backing of police and the army, asked people to reopen businesses and go back to work as he ordered the reopening of the international airport.
Joseph has only been in his post as prime minister for three months — and was due to step down within days after Moïse named a replacement two days before he was gunned down.
Joseph’s replacement, Ariel Henry, said Joseph “is no longer prime minister, in my opinion.”
He asked: “Does a country have several prime ministers?”
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise are tossed on the floor after being detained.AP
The country’s 1987 constitution stipulates that the head of the Supreme Court should assume control, but amendments that are not unanimously recognized state that it be the prime minister, or, in the last year of a president’s mandate — as is the case with Moïse — that parliament should elect a president.
The head of the Supreme Court died last month due to COVID-19. There is no sitting parliament as legislative elections scheduled for late 2019 were postponed amid political unrest.
Joseph decreed a two-week state of siege after the assassination, which shocked a nation already in crisis amid crushing poverty, widespread violence and continued political instability.
The country had grown increasingly unstable under the late president, who had been ruling by decree for more than a year and faced violent protests as critics accused him of trying to amass more power while the opposition demanded he step down.
The weapons and equipment the assassins allegedly used in the attackAP
On Thursday, the UN Security Council met privately to discuss the situation in Haiti. UN special envoy Helen La Lime later said Haitian officials had asked for additional security assistance.
Meanwhile, Haiti is observing two weeks of mourning.
“Jovenel Moïse was not terribly popular, but he was the president. He cannot be killed as if he were just an ordinary citizen,” a 55-year-old man in Port-au-Prince, who gave his name only as Paul, told Agence France-Presse.
A 28-year-old woman named Julia said she was wary of police claims that foreign mercenaries killed the president, according to AFP.
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise are displayed to the media by the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.AP
“Where were the well-equipped police who watch over the president night and day? Why didn’t they react?” she said.
Prosecutors have the same question.
“I have given (police) the power to interview all the security agents close to President Jovenel Moise,” Port-au-Prince government commissioner Bed-Ford Claude said Thursday.
“If you are responsible for the security of the president, where were you? What did you do to avoid this fate for the president?” Claude added, according to the news outlet.