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US citizens, ex-Colombia soldiers held in Haiti leader's assassination

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Copyright © africanews
VALERIE BAERISWYL/AFP or licensors

Haiti

Seventeen suspects have been detained so far in the stunning assassination of Haiti's president, and Haitian authorities say two are believed to hold dual U.S.-Haitian citizenship and Colombia's government says at least six are former members of its army.

Leon Charles, chief of Haiti's National Police, said Thursday night that 15 of the detainees were from Colombia.

The police chief said eight more suspects were being sought and three others had been killed by police. Charles had earlier said seven were killed.

“We are going to bring them to justice,'' the police chief said, the 17 handcuffed suspects sitting on the floor during a news conference on developments following the brazen killing of President Jovenel Moise at his home before dawn Wednesday.

Colombia's government said it had been asked about six of the suspects in Haiti, including two of those killed, and had determined they were retired members of its army. It didn't release their identities.

The head of the Colombian national police, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, said President Ivan Duque had ordered the high command of Colombia's army and police to cooperate in the investigation.

“A team was formed with the best investigators ... they are going to send dates, flight times, financial information that is already being collected to be sent to Port-au-Prince,'' Vargas said.

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that Haitian Americans were in custody but could not confirm or comment.

The Haitian Americans were identified by Haitian officials as James Solages and Joseph Vincent. Solages, at age 35, is the youngest of the suspects and the oldest is 55, according to a document shared by Haiti's minister of elections, Mathias Pierre. He would not provide further information on those in custody.

Solages described himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,'' an advocate for children and budding politician on a website for a charity he started in 2019 in south Florida to assist people in the Haitian coastal town of Jacmel. On his bio page for the charity, Solages said he previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti.

In Port-au-Prince, witnesses said a crowd discovered two suspects hiding in bushes, and some people grabbed the men by their shirts and pants, pushed them and occasionally slapped them. An Associated Press journalist saw officers put the pair in the back of a pickup and drive away as the crowd ran after them to a police station.

“They killed the president! Give them to us! We're going to burn them,'' people chanted outside Thursday.

Officials have given out little information on the killing, other than to say the attack was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group.''

Skepticism abound

Not everyone was buying the government's description of the attack. When Haitian journalist Robenson Geffrard, who writes for a local newspaper and has a radio show, tweeted a report on comments by the police chief, he drew a flood of responses expressing skepticism. Many wondered how the sophisticated attackers described by police could penetrate Moise's home, security detail and panic room and escape unharmed but then be caught without planning a successful getaway.

A Haitian judge involved in the investigation said Moise was shot a dozen times and his office and bedroom were ransacked, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. It quoted Judge Carl Henry Destin as saying investigators found 5.56 and 7.62 mm cartridges between the gatehouse and inside the house.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who assumed leadership of Haiti with the backing of police and the military, asked people to reopen businesses and go back to work as he ordered the reopening of the international airport.

Joseph decreed a two-week state of siege after the assassination, which stunned a nation already in crisis from some of the Western Hemisphere's worst poverty, widespread violence and political instability.

Haiti had grown increasingly unstable under Moise, who had been ruling by decree for more than a year and faced violent protests as critics accused him of trying to amass more power while the opposition demanded he step down.

The U.N. Security Council met privately Thursday to discuss the situation in Haiti, and U.N. special envoy Helen La Lime said afterward that Haitian officials had asked for additional security assistance.

_AP_