(CNN) – Four suspects related to the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise were killed by police on Wednesday and two others were detained, the Haitian ambassador to the United States said.
Speaking to CNN en Español on Wednesday night, Ambassador Bocchit Edmond said the suspects were foreigners and that the Haitian National Police was in the process of determining their nationalities.
“We are trying to move forward and see how we can identify more of those who participated in this horrible act,” he said.
President Moise he was killed during an attack on his private residence early Wednesday morning. The attackers broke into the president’s house around 1 am and fatally wounded him.
Haiti’s first lady, Martine Moise, was shot during the attack and evacuated to a hospital in Miami for treatment, according to Edmond, who said her condition is stable but critical. Images showed the first lady on a gurney arriving at Jackson Health System’s Ryder Trauma Center in Miami.
Moise’s death takes place in a context of extreme violence in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, which has claimed the lives of many citizens and escalated markedly in June. Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who declared a state of siege in the country, described the murder as a “heinous, inhuman and barbarous act” and pleaded with citizens to remain calm.
Police have not publicly identified the alleged attackers and little is known about who carried out the killing.
Ambassador Edmond said he believed the suspects received assistance from Haitian citizens because of the vehicles they used to get to the residence where the president was assassinated. He had previously referred to them as “mercenaries” and “well-trained assassins”.
Video from the scene showed them speaking Spanish and they introduced themselves as agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), he said. CNN has not been able to confirm the authenticity of this video.
“I think they are fake DEA agents,” he told reporters Wednesday.
“We don’t know how they got in,” Edmond said, adding that they didn’t know if the attackers were still in the country. He said that if they left, it would be over a land border with the Dominican Republic because Haiti would have detected a plane leaving and the airport has been closed since the attack. He said the airport will reopen “once we get this situation under control.”
The state of siege is the second of three levels of emergency under Haitian law, along with the lowest “state of emergency” and the highest level called a “state of war.”
Under the regime of siege, national borders are closed and martial law is temporarily imposed, while the Haitian army and national police are empowered to enforce the law.
Moise, 53, was a former banana exporter and a divisive figure in Haitian politics. He spent most of the past year waging a political war with the opposition over the terms of his presidency.
For now, it is not immediately clear who will replace him. Judge Jean Wilner Morin, president of the Haitian National Association of Judges, told CNN that the line of presidential succession in the country is now murky.
The president of the Supreme Court of Haiti would normally be next in line, but he recently died of covid-19. For the acting prime minister, Joseph, to formally replace the president, he would have to be approved by Haiti’s parliament, Morin said. But without recent elections, the parliament is effectively gone.
Throughout his presidency, Moise had repeatedly failed to hold elections at the local and national levels, leaving much of the country’s government infrastructure empty. A constitutional referendum is scheduled to be held in September, along with presidential and legislative elections. Municipal and local elections are scheduled for January 16, 2022, shows the official electoral calendar.
Many in the country had disputed Moise’s right to continue serving in the presidency this year.
Moise’s private residence is in Petion-Ville, in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince.
While the US, the United Nations and the Organization of American States supported his claim for a fifth year in office, critics say he should have resigned on February 7, citing a constitutional provision that sets the clock ticking. once a president is elected, rather than when he takes office.
However, Moise claimed that his five-year term should end in 2022 because he was not sworn in until February 2017. His inauguration was delayed by allegations of electoral fraud during the 2015 elections, leading to a presidential runoff that it was postponed twice due to what authorities called threats and “security concerns.”
Worsening situation in Haiti
The Haitian capital has seen violence for weeks as rival groups fight each other or the police for control of the streets, displacing tens of thousands of people and exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis.
Former police officer Jimmy Cherizier promised local media last week to carry out a “revolution” in the city.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has been worsening in Haiti. The country is one of the few in the world that has yet to begin vaccinating against the virus.
Last month, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned that the response in the country must be drastically expanded to deal with escalating cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Haiti has reported more than 19,000 COVID-19 cases and 467 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
At the same time, the impoverished Caribbean nation faces a dire economic situation. Its economy had contracted even before the pandemic and shrank further by 3.8% in 2020, with about 60% of the population now living in poverty, according to the World Bank.
UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, said in May that severe acute child malnutrition is expected to more than double in Haiti this year as it grapples with increasing violence, covid-19 and lack of access to essential services.
CNN’s Ivana Kottasová, Caitlin Hu, Sharon Braithwaite, Claudia Rebaza, Jennifer Hansler, Emmet Lyons, Melissa Bell and Stephanie Halasz contributed reporting.