The assassination of Jovenel Moise by armed mercenaries was planned in the neighboring Dominican Republic, say Haitian police, who announced the detention of the slain president's chief bodyguard and three other members of his security detail.
The apparent ease with which a hit squad entered the Haitian leader’s residence in Port-au-Prince and shot him dead, with no injuries to his bodyguards, has raised suspicions that the July 7 attack may have been an inside job.
A photograph circulating on social media identifies two suspects — both later arrested — meeting former Haitian opposition senator Joel John Joseph, who is wanted by police.
According to Haitian national police director Leon Charles, the picture was taken as the trio were in the Dominican capital plotting to kill Moise, whose body was found riddled with bullets.
“They met in a hotel in Santo Domingo,” Charles told reporters. “Around the table there are the architects of the plot, a technical recruitment team and a finance group.
“Some individuals in the photo have already been apprehended, such as Dr. Christian Emmanuel Sanon and James Solages,” Charles added.
The assassination, which came during a period of heightened gang violence and political instability, has plunged Haiti into confusion and raised fears of an explosion in Covid-19 cases.
Authorities in Port-au-Prince had requested military assistance from the United States amid the crisis, but President Joe Biden on Thursday ruled out sending US troops to Haiti, saying it was “not on the agenda,” though security would be bolstered at the US embassy.
The United States has sent members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), State Department, Justice Department, National Security Council and Department of Homeland Security to Haiti.
On Thursday, the FBI took part in a search of Moise’s home, removing at least one computer and several boxes.
Police say Solages, a Haitian-American, coordinated with Miami-based Venezuelan security firm CTU as part of the plot.
“The head of the firm, Antonio Emmanuel Intriago Valera, is in the picture,” said Charles. “He entered Haiti several times to plan the assassination.“
Florida-based financial services company Worldwide Capital Lending Group funded the attack, Charles said, adding that its boss Walter Veintemilla also appears with the plotters.
Two Americans of Haitian descent and 26 Colombians allegedly took part in the assassination. Three Colombian mercenaries have been killed and 18 arrested by Haitian police.
Those in custody maintain they were contracted to capture Moise and hand him over to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Colombian police helping with the investigation said Thursday.
Colombia’s police chief Jorge Vargas said the Colombians believed the initial idea was “to plan the arrest of the president and make him available… to the DEA.“
“There was a group of four (mercenaries) who were already in the country. The others entered on June 6. They went through the Dominican Republic. We traced the credit card that was used to buy the plane tickets,” said Charles.
“They are former Colombian special force operatives. They are experts, criminals. This was a well-planned attack,” the police chief added.
Among the four presidential security officials placed in solitary confinement at the police headquarters were Dimitri Herard, the head of Moise’s personal security detail and three others. Another 24 were subject to inquiries, Charles said.
Haiti has called on the United States — which has trained Colombian forces in the past — for help in shedding light on who was behind the assassination.
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that some of the suspects were trained by the US military.
“A review of our training databases indicates that a small number of the Colombian individuals detained as part of this investigation had participated in past US military training and education programs, while serving as active members of the Colombian military forces,” said Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ken Hoffman.
Hoffman said the review was “ongoing.“
Meanwhile, the first images of Moise’s wounded widow, who was evacuated to Florida for medical care after the attack, were posted Thursday.
“Thank you for the team of guardian angels who helped me through this terrible time,” 47-year-old Martine Moise said on Twitter, alongside a photograph of her in hospital with a heavily bandaged arm.
“With your gentle touch, kindness and care, I was able to hold on. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”