A group of 28 foreign mercenaries has been identified as part of the commando group that assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moïse earlier this week. Of the 28, 17 have already been arrested, while three were killed in clashes with police. Among those arrested are several retired Colombian soldiers and at least two Americans.
Following a shootout on Thursday, July 8 in the capital Port-au-Prince, 17 men were arrested, several of them in the house they were using as a hideout, and others after entering the Taiwanese diplomatic compound, BBC News reported.
According to reports, police forces involved in the operation killed three suspects and are still actively searching for eight others.
On Thursday, the arrested suspects, bloodied and beaten, were displayed to the media, along with a pile of seized weapons.
It is still unclear who was allegedly the mastermind behind the attack and in pursuit of what targets.
Initial police statements following the operation indicated that the squad that attacked the president included mainly Colombians, many of whom were retired soldiers and at least two Haitian-Americans.
Among the belongings seized from the suspects were firearms, stacks of U.S. dollar bills, the late president’s checkbook, and the server containing surveillance camera footage from the house where he was assassinated reported Le Nouvelliste newspaper.
According to local media reports, several groups of angry civilians reportedly joined in the search for the armed suspects and helped police locate some hiding in the bushes. The crowd set fire to three of the suspects’ cars destroying evidence that could have been valuable to the investigation.
“We Haitians are appalled, we do not accept it,” one man told the AFP news agency. “We are ready to help because we need to know who is behind this, their names, their background so that justice can do its job.”
The police chief in charge of the operation, Léon Charles, was interviewed at the scene. Amid the tumult of the crowd, he focused on calling for calm and asking the public not to try to take justice into their own hands, urging those present to let the professionals do that job.
During the press conference, police showed the journalists present Colombian passports. “Foreigners came to our country to kill the president,” Charles said, as the suspects sat on the floor behind him in handcuffs.
Two of the detainees are U.S. nationals and were identified as James Solages, 35, a native of Florida, and Joseph Vincent. They claimed they were there as translators for the mercenaries after finding the job through an online job search.
“The mission was to arrest President Jovenel Moïse … and not to kill him,” the intervening judge Clément Noël assured Le Nouvelliste.
Meanwhile, the Colombian daily El Tiempo said it had seen confidential documents naming the Colombian suspects. The article’s investigation suggests that four of them flew from Colombia to the Dominican Republic on June 4.
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse died after a brutal shooting attack on him and his wife, first lady Martine Moïse 47, who was seriously wounded and is in a stable condition after being flown to Florida for treatment.
The interim Prime Minister, Claude Joseph, assured that public order in the country is under control, with the support of the authorities, including the National Police. The events occurred at the president’s residence during the night of July 6-7.
Moïse had ruled the country since 2018. He assumed power by decree without going through the election process. The duration of his administration had not been determined either.