The assassination of the president of Haiti allegedly involved Americans and retired members of the Colombian military

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) – The armed group that assassinated the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, were “professional assassins” made up of more than two dozen people, including two US citizens and retired members of the Colombian military, authorities said.

But as more details about the people who killed Moïse on Wednesday morning begin to emerge, little is known about the alleged masterminds and their motivation for the attack.

What do the attackers’ boots and gun casings indicate? 2:50

So far, police have arrested 17 suspects in connection with the fatal shooting and a massive manhunt is underway across the country of at least eight more suspects. Haitian Police Chief Leon Charles said three suspects were killed during the operations on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

As the persecution of those responsible intensifies, details have emerged regarding the arrest of 11 gunmen on the grounds of the Taiwanese embassy in the capital Port-au-Prince on Thursday.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told CNN that the embassy called local police after security guards reported that “a group of armed suspects” entered the embassy grounds. She said 11 suspects, described in a separate statement from the Foreign Ministry as “mercenaries”, were arrested at 4 pm inside the embassy without resistance and only a few doors and windows were damaged.

26 Colombians Among Suspects in Haiti, Police Say 5:13

The Taiwanese Foreign Ministry did not provide information on the nationalities of those detained and it is not yet clear whether the 11 suspects are among the 17 people detained by the police.

With tension high in the capital, crowds of people took to the streets Thursday night, burning cars and demanding justice. For weeks, Port-au-Prince has seen a wave of violence that has claimed the lives of many citizens. Moïse’s death has left a power vacuum and deepened turmoil over violence, a growing humanitarian crisis and a worsening COVID-19 epidemic.

Much of the public’s anger so far has focused on the foreign nationals arrested in connection with the shooting. On Thursday night, Elections Minister Mathias Pierre told CNN that two US citizens were among the 17 people arrested. Pierre identified the men as James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both naturalized citizens of Haiti.

The Haitian police chief described the men presented at the press conference as attackers who have been detained.

Separately on Thursday, Police Chief Charles said 15 of the detainees were Colombian nationals. He paraded some of the suspects at a press conference, along with a variety of military-style weaponry.

In a statement, the Colombian Defense Ministry said that at least six of the alleged attackers were retired members of the Colombian Army and Interpol had requested more information from the Colombian government and the National Police.

The head of the Colombian National Police, General Jorge Vargas, added that two alleged attackers, killed in a Haitian Police operation, were retired officers of the Colombian Army, and at least four alleged attackers arrested by the Haitian Police were retired Colombian soldiers.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, US State Department spokesman Ned Price described the situation in Haiti as “evolving rapidly” and said Washington was preparing to send investigative personnel to the Caribbean country, in response to a request from the government of Haiti.

Is it the right time to hold elections in Haiti after the assassination? 2:24

What’s next for Haiti?

It was 1 am when the attackers broke into the president’s private residence in Petion-Ville, a suburb of the Haitian capital, shooting Moïse 16 times, according to former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. First lady Martine Moïse, who was also shot in the attack, was evacuated to intensive care at a Miami hospital. Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Bocchit Edmond, said he believes the first lady is “now out of the woods.”

Following the assassination, the acting prime minister, Claude Joseph, declared a “state of siege” in Haiti, closed the country’s borders and imposed martial law. He called on the public to “keep helping us” and “if you see something, say so.”

The assassination leaves a huge power vacuum in Haiti. Its parliament is effectively missing and two men simultaneously claim to be the legitimate leader of the country. Joseph has not been confirmed by parliament, which has not met since 2020, and was in the process of being replaced by Ariel Henry, whom the president appointed shortly before his death. Henry told the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste that “Claude Joseph is not prime minister, he is part of my government.”

Moïse, 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.

Former diplomat: The situation in Haiti will go from bad to worse 1:14

Throughout his presidency, Moïse 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, also showed the official electoral calendar.

Many in the country had disputed Moïse’s right to continue serving in the presidency this year.

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, not when he takes office.

However, Moïse 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 it was postponed twice, based on what authorities called threats and “security concerns.”

Citizens participate in a protest near the Petion Ville police station after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 8 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

This is taking place in a context of extreme violence in the Haitian capital, with rival groups fighting each other or against the police for control of the streets, displacing tens of thousands of people and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has been worsening in Haiti. UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, said on Thursday that Haiti was the only country in the Western Hemisphere that had not received a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

At the same time, the country is facing a serious 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.

According to UNICEF, more than 1.5 million children currently need urgent humanitarian assistance in Haiti. “The new wave of violent incidents that may emerge after the assassination of Haiti’s president could further exacerbate humanitarian needs and hamper humanitarian access to the most vulnerable groups, leaving thousands of affected people with little or no assistance,” UNICEF warned. .

CNN’s Priscilla Peyrot, Karen Smith, Chandler Thornton, Larry Register, Kiarinna Parisi, Etant Dupain, Mitchell McCluskey, Gerardo Lemos, Ivana Kottasová and Jack Guy contributed reporting and writing.

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