Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed by gunmen in the early morning hours in his private residence on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince on Wednesday (July 7).
Le Nouvelliste, a local newspaper, citing Magistrate Carl Henry Destin reported that Moise’s body had been riddled with 12 bullets, and that two of his children had been home during the attack. According to the interim prime minister Claude Joseph, the First Lady Martine Moise was also shot in the attack and was transported to a hospital in Florida for treatment.
The police said late Wednesday they killed four suspects in a tense hostage situation and arrested two others. Authorities are still pursuing some suspects, Haiti’s police chief Léon Charles said.
Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, described the suspects as foreign “mercenaries.” Video from the scene showed suspects speaking Spanish and they presented themselves as U.S. Drug and Enforcement Administration (DEA) Agents, Edmond said. The DEA has an office in the Haitian capital to assist the government in counternarcotics programs, according to the U.S. Embassy.
The news of Haitian President Moise’s shocking killing rocked the Caribbean nation of about 11 million people with officials declaring a state of siege in the country and closing the international airport.
The state of siege is the middle of three levels of emergency under Haitian law, alongside the lower “state of emergency” and the highest level referred to as the “state of war.”
U.S. President Joe Biden condemned what he called the “horrific assassination” of Haiti’s leader.
“We condemn this heinous act,” he said in a statement. “We stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti.”
Even before President Moise’s assassination, the situation in Haiti was marked by instability
and a growing humanitarian crisis with protesters taking to the streets to demand Moise’s removal. He had been ruling by decree for more than a year after failing to hold elections, even as many argued that his term had expired. The US, United Nations and Organization of American States supported his claim to a fifth year in office.
During his four years in office, Moise, 53, a former banana exporter, had six prime ministers and a day before he was killed, he had nominated a seventh, Ariel Henry, to replace Joseph – who was only meant to be an interim PM .
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, is still trying to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
A group of 28 foreign mercenaries, including retired Colombian soldiers, assassinated Moise, Haitian police said. After a gun battle in the capital, 17 were detained, some at the house they were using, others after entering Taiwan’s diplomatic compound. Angry civilians reportedly joined the search for the gunmen, and helped police track down some who were hiding. A mass, countrywide manhunt is underway for at least eight additional suspects. It is still unclear who organized the attack and with what motive. It is the first assassination of a serving president in the Americas since John F Kennedy’s 1963 shooting.
Police in Haiti said the assassination was carried out by a commando unit of 26 Colombian and two Haitian-American mercenaries. The two Haitian-Americans were identified as James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, 55, both from Florida.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, CNN, BBC