- Haitian authorities say Moïse was killed by a group of “mercenaries” at his residence Wednesday.
- Haitian police say the manhunt continues; they have killed four suspects and detained others.
- The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, declared a “state of siege” akin to martial law.
WASHINGTON – Two men believed to be Haitian Americans were detained in connection with Wednesday’s brazen assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, an attack that jolted the Caribbean country and fueled further political chaos.
Fifteen Colombian nationals were also among those dozen detained, Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police, said Thursday, as authorities continued the manhunt for those involved in the assassination.
Haitian police identified James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55, as the two American citizens involved in the attack that also seriously wounded Haiti’s First Lady, Martine Moïse. Solages, who most recently lived in South Florida, identified himself on a charity website as a former bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
Late Thursday, Colombia’s government said six of the suspects in Haiti, including two of those killed, were retired member of Colombia’s army, though it didn’t release their identities.
Moïse was killed by a group of “mercenaries” at his private residence early Wednesday morning, according to Haitian authorities.
Here’s what we know about the assassination and its aftermath.
Who killed the Haitian president?
Haitian police say the manhunt for Moïse’s killers is ongoing, even after they killed four suspects and detained others.
Charles said eight more suspects were being sought and three others had been killed by police.
“We are going to bring them to justice,” the police chief said during a news conference on Thursday, as 17 handcuffed suspects sat on the floor.
Solages claims to be an engineer and “certified diplomatic agent” who once worked as a chief body guard for the Canadian embassy in Haiti, according to a website for a charity he set up in Florida in 2019.
Canada’s foreign relation department released a statement that did not refer to Solages by name but said one of the men detained for his alleged role in the killing had been “briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard” at its embassy by a private contractor.
“Currently, Mr. Solages works as a corporate executive serving as a consultant in different locations throughout South Florida,” his website bio states.
The Department of Justice and FBI did not respond to requests for comment on the possible involvement of American citizens. State Department spokesman Ned Price said he could not confirm the arrest of a U.S. citizen, noting the probe is being led by Haitian authorities.
Colombian officials said they were assisting Haiti with the investigation.
Also on Thursday, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Haitian police arrested 11 armed suspects who tried to break into its embassy in Port-au-Prince.
“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.
Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told USA TODAY that 28 mercenaries were involved in the operation.
The presidential guard did not try to stop the assailants, Lamothe told USA TODAY in an interview from Miami on Thursday. He said the attackers fired 16 bullets into the president’s body and his wife was shot three times. Haitian government officials said the president’s killers shot him 12 times and mutilated him, removing his left eye, according to The Nouvelliste newspaper.
In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said the assassins falsely claimed to be U.S. agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency. He described them as “mercenaries” and said they were “well-trained professional killers.”
Who is in charge now?
The interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, declared a “state of siege” akin to martial law and said he was in charge of the country, even as his claim to power came into question. He has declared a 15-day “state of siege” in the aftermath of Wednesday’s assassination.
“Everything is under control,” he told The Associated Press.
But Moïse had named a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, just one day before his murder.
“I am a prime minister,” Henry told the Nouvelliste newspaper on Wednesday. Henry said he did not want to fuel further confusion and praised Joseph’s handling of the crisis, but said he would assert his claim to the prime minister position and include Joseph in his Cabinet.
“The next few days are critical for Haiti,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Wednesday evening. He called for calm and urged the Haitian government “to do everything it can to ensure a peaceful transition of power.”
Price, the State Department’s spokesman, noted that Joseph was the incumbent prime minister when the assassination took place, “and we continue to work with Claude Joseph as such.” But Price said State Department officials have also been in contact with Henry and other “officials and stakeholders” in Haiti.
“The situation on the ground is evolving rapidly,” Price said. He reiterated the Biden administration’s position that Haiti should proceed with “free and fair elections” scheduled for later this year.
The legitimacy of Moïse’s presidency had been in question for months. U.S. human rights advocates said his presidency should have ended in February. But the 53-year-old politician had refused to step down and, using an alternative reading of Haiti’s Constitution, Moïse argued he could stay in office for another year.
What is the U.S. doing?
Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat and co-chair of the House Haiti Caucus, said Moïse’s murder is a “shocking example of the extent to which the security situation in Haiti has unraveled” and said the international community was at least partly responsible.
The U.S. and other countries have ignored Haiti’s spiraling violence and pleas from its people for a democratic transition, Levin said. He and others are pressing the Biden administration to recalibrate U.S.-Haiti policy and work to shore up the country’s fragile democracy.
Human rights groups said Moïse’s assassination should serve as a “wake-up call” for the U.S. and other world powers to refocus on Haiti’s political and societal instability.
In the near term, Edmond, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., said Haiti’s leaders are seeking U.S. assistance in the investigation, as well as American help in strengthening Haiti’s police force and its armed forces.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Thursday when asked if the agency was assisting Haitian authorities in an investigation into Moïse’s assassination.
Price said the Haitian police had made an official request for investigatory assistance and “the U.S. is responding,” but he could not provide additional details. He said American and Haitian officials have been in regular contact since the assassination.
Contributing: The Associated Press, Daphne Duret