Haitian officials: 17 members of the Hit Squad detained in the murder of the president | Voice of America
More than a dozen people have been arrested in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, officials said Thursday evening.
Haitian authorities have described a heavily armed squad of 28 “mercenaries”, made up of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, involved in the murder of Moise, 53, at his private residence in an affluent suburb of the capital, Port- au-Prince. , before dawn Wednesday.
Haiti’s National Police Director Léon Charles said Thursday 17 men had been arrested, both US citizens and 15 Colombians.
Charles said three suspects were killed and eight were still at large. Earlier, police said four suspects had been killed. Neither Charles nor the police explained the discrepancy.
“The pursuit of the mercenaries continues,” said Charles. “Their fate is fixed: they will fall in battle or be arrested.”
Early Friday, Taiwan released a statement saying 11 suspects were arrested on embassy grounds in Port-au-Prince after trying to flee from police.
“The police launched an operation around 4:00 pm (Thursday) and managed to arrest 11 suspects,” according to the statement from the Taiwanese embassy.
Mathias Pierre, the Haitian minister of elections, on Thursday identified the two Haitian Americans as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55.
The US State Department has not confirmed reports that two US citizens are in custody.
On Thursday evening, the Colombian government confirmed that at least six of the suspects, including two of those killed, appeared to be retired members of the Colombian military. He did not identify the suspects.
Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph has placed the country under a “state of siege” – in effect, martial law.
“This death will not go unpunished,” Joseph told the impoverished nation of 11 million people in a speech Wednesday.
Brian Concannon, a human rights lawyer, former United Nations human rights official and founder of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, told VOA that the state of siege allows the police to do ” whatever is necessary ”in the pursuit of the killers.
“Although almost everyone wants the police to effectively prosecute killers, there is great concern that this could be abused to rally political opponents,” he said.
“There really is nothing – no structure to prevent the government from arresting its political opponents under this decree.”
Officials did not provide many more details about the suspects being held, those killed in the shooting or what led police to them. They only said the attack was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group”, the attackers speaking Spanish or English.
The motives for the assassination remain unclear. However, Haiti has long endured poverty and political turmoil.
Carl Henry Destin, a Haitian judge, said The Nouvelliste newspaper that the attackers posed as agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, but US and Haitian officials said the gunmen had no connection with the agency.
Destin told the newspaper that the attackers tied up a housekeeper and another domestic worker as they made their way to the president’s bedroom, where they shot Moses at least 12 times.
“The president’s offices and bedroom were ransacked,” Destin said. “We found him lying on his back, blue pants, a white shirt stained with blood, his mouth open, his left eye gouged out.”
Moise’s wife, Martine Moise, was injured in the attack and airlifted over 1,100 kilometers to a trauma center in Miami, Florida, United States. Joseph, the Prime Minister, said she was “out of danger” and in stable condition.
While Joseph has claimed rulership of Haiti, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, his tenure could be short-lived.
Haiti’s constitution states that Moise should be replaced by the president of the country’s Supreme Court, but the chief justice recently passed away from COVID-19. In addition, a day before his assassination, Moise had appointed Ariel Henry, a Haitian politician and neurosurgeon, to replace Joseph as prime minister.
In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Henry claimed he was the Prime Minister, but admitted that this was an unusual situation.
The United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the crisis in Haiti. In a statement, its members called on “all parties to remain calm, exercise restraint” and avoid “any act that could contribute to further instability.”
US President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and saddened” by the assassination.
“We condemn this heinous act,” Biden said in a statement. “I send my sincere best wishes for the recovery of First Lady Moise.”
State Department correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report, which includes information from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.