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Former Colombian Soldiers Deny Killing Haitian President

The majority of suspects involved in the assassination of Haiti’s president

were retired officers and soldiers of Colombia’s armed forces, experienced fighters who had been recruited by four security companies to work on the island, the Colombian government said.

Haitian authorities say that security forces detained 18 Colombian nationals and two Haitian-Americans as they hunted down the suspected killers of President Jovenel Moïse across the upscale hillside suburb where he lived with his wife, Martine Moïse. Authorities credited ordinary Haitians for helping round up some of the suspects.

In Bogotá, Colombia’s police chief, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, said on Friday that at least 13 suspects are believed to be retired members of the Colombian army, including two men who Haiti’s interim government asserts were killed in gunfights with security forces. Little is known about why the Colombians went to the impoverished, politically unstable country, except that they arrived between May and June.

After a half-century guerrilla conflict in Colombia, some former army officers and soldiers have been contracted by security companies world-wide, and others have drifted into drug gangs, according to Colombian officials and analysts who track the drug trade.

The Colombian government has appointed an investigative team of military intelligence officers to provide financial data, flight schedules and other information to Interpol and Haitian authorities, Mr. Vargas said.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration would send senior FBI and Department of Homeland Security officials to help Haitian officials investigate.

Haiti’s government said Mr. Moïse’s assassination was carried out by a group of foreign mercenaries who stormed the president’s home around 1 a.m. Wednesday.

An investigator in charge of the crime scene said the assailants shot the president 12 times, with one shot directly to his forehead. The killers also gouged out an eye, the investigator said. Ms. Moïse, the first lady, was wounded in the attack and airlifted to a Miami hospital.

After the attack, 11 men whom Haiti suspected of being involved in the killing, broke into Taiwan’s embassy in Port-au-Prince. Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said that embassy staff reported the incident to Haitian authorities, who arrested the group at the embassy Thursday.

Haitian authorities said five fugitives remained at large. “The hunt continues,” Haiti’s National Police said on Twitter.

In early June, more than 10 of the former Colombian military members flew from Bogotá to Punta Cana, a Dominican Republic resort, before traveling by land into Haiti. Weeks earlier, two of the men flew from Panama City to the Dominican capital, and then took another flight to Port-au-Prince, Gen. Vargas said. Colombian authorities showed photographs of Dominican tourist attractions posted by some of the men on social media.

Officials in Colombia’s armed forces and government were also trying to determine whether the former soldiers were, in fact, innocent. “That’s a theory that we’re working on, that a trap was sprung on them,” said an official familiar with the situation.

Many people in Haiti and those who track the country closely from abroad have openly questioned an assassination in which a team that was described as well-trained got caught just hours after the killing without any apparent escape plan.

“These were so-called elite commandos,” said Luis Moreno, a former acting U.S. ambassador in Haiti. “And they ran away a couple of blocks and were caught, allegedly by civilians? Why did they all get caught, almost immediately?”

The assailants tied up a housekeeper, the butler and guards at the president’s home before the assassination, Haitian officials have said. People who knew about the president’s security said he had a panic room, where he could have hidden. The president’s body was found in his bedroom.

Haitian officials have yet to disclose a motive for the president’s killing or explain how the killers broke into the residence. A Haitian prosecutor said he would interrogate Mr. Moïse’s security detail.

On Thursday night, Haitian authorities paraded more than a dozen suspects, who then sat handcuffed on the floor, before the media. Authorities also displayed assault rifles, handguns, ammunition, a dozen Colombian passports, walkie-talkies and bulletproof vests.

Among those detained were two suspects authorities say are Haitian-Americans with dual citizenship. One was identified as James Solages, who had been running a charity with an office in Florida that assists Haitians.

Mr. Solages had previously worked as a reserve bodyguard for a security company briefly hired by the Canadian embassy in Haiti in 2010, according to a Canadian official. But the company hasn’t worked for Canada’s foreign service since 2010. A representative for Mr. Solages couldn’t be located for comment.

The assassination deepens a political crisis in Haiti, where Mr. Moïse had been ruling arbitrarily with no functioning parliament or high court.

With Mr. Moïse’s death, Claude Joseph, is ruling Haiti as interim prime minister. Mr. Joseph had recently resigned as prime minister, and Mr. Moïse, days before his death, had appointed Ariel Henry as prime minister. Mr. Henry, a neurosurgeon and politician, has said he should be in charge.

The Biden administration has said it considers Mr. Joseph the leader of the country until elections are called later in the year. But many in Haiti don’t believe that Mr. Joseph is the rightful leader.

Haiti Officials Reveal Weapons, Suspects in Jovenel Moïse Assassination
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At a media event, Haitian authorities presented guns, machetes and a group of people they said were linked to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Suspects include two U.S. citizens, according to officials in Port-au-Prince. Photo: Jean Marc Herve Abelard/Shutterstock
An umbrella of eight Haitian coalitions that encompass about 30 political parties called in a statement late Friday for Senate President Joseph Lambert to be named provisional president and for Mr. Henry to serve as prime minister. The group said that 72 hours after the men are sworn in, Haiti’s private sector, civil society and political parties would sign an agreement to determine the agenda of a consensus government to be in charge of the country until elections, which would be held within a year.

“This would be a good way to reconcile political parties, form a national unity government and build a road map to the future,” said Reginald Boulos, a prominent businessman and politician who is considering running for president.

Mr. Boulos commended Mr. Joseph for having taken charge after Mr. Moïse’s death but called for him to step aside. “He should not cling to power,” Mr. Boulos said.

 

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