PORT-AU-PRINCE: At least 28 people carried out the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, Haitian police said on Thursday (Jul 8), adding that 26 of them were Colombian and two were Americans of Haitian origin.
“We have arrested 15 Colombians and the two Americans of Haitian origin. Three Colombians have been killed while eight others are on the loose,” national police director general Leon Charles said at a news conference.
On Wednesday police said four of the suspects had been killed. Charles did not explain the discrepancy.
He also said the “weapons and materials used by the assailants have been recovered”.
Charles said in a televised briefing that authorities had tracked down the suspected assassins to a house near the scene of the crime in Petionville, a northern, hillside suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince.
A fierce firefight lasted late into the night on Wednesday. Officers were heavily patrolling the area from early on Thursday.
“We have the physical authors, now we are looking for the intellectual authors,” Charles said.
READ: Haiti President Jovenel Moise assassinated at home, wife wounded
Charles spoke a day after Moise and his wife Martine were attacked by gunmen at their private residence in the capital Port-au-Prince.
Moise was shot dead in the early morning attack, and his wife was wounded. She has been taken to Miami by air ambulance and authorities have said her condition is stable.
The US State Department said it was in regular contact with Haitian officials, including investigative authorities, to discuss how the United States could provide assistance. A State Department spokesman, however, could not confirm if a US citizen was among those detained.
Officials in mostly French and Creole-speaking Haiti had said on Wednesday that the assassins appeared to have spoken in English and Spanish.
The poorest country in the Americas now has no president or working parliament and two men claiming to be in charge as prime minister.
Charles vowed the hunt for the other alleged assassins would continue.
“We will strengthen our investigation and search techniques to intercept the other eight mercenaries,” he said.
READ: Assassination threatens more chaos for Haiti
PRESIDENT’S GUARDS TO BE INTERROGATED
The heads of the security detail meant to be protecting Moise the night he was assassinated will be interrogated in the coming days, the head of the public prosector office said Thursday.
“I have given (police) the power to interview all the security agents close to President Jovenel Moise,” said Port-au-Prince government commissioner Bed-Ford Claude.
“If you are responsible for the security of the president, where were you? What did you do to avoid this fate for the president?” Claude said.
READ: Haiti’s history of violence and turmoil
A crowd of locals gathered on Thursday morning to watch the police operation unfold, with some setting fire to the suspects’ cars and to the house where they had bunkered down. Bullets were strewn in the street.
“Burn them!” shouted some of the hundreds of people who gathered outside the police station where the suspects were being held.
Charles said the local population had helped police track down the suspects but he implored residents in the sprawling seafront city of 1 million people not to take justice into their own hands.
A 15-day state of emergency was declared on Wednesday to help authorities apprehend the killers. But interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said on Thursday it was time for the economy to reopen and said he had given instructions for the airport to restart operations.
Officials have not given a motive for the killing so far. Since he took office in 2017, Moise had faced mass protests against his rule – first over corruption allegations and his management of the economy, then over his increasing grip on power.