Several Colombians who were part of a heavily armed commando unit that assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise this week entered Haiti from neighboring Dominican Republic, sources in the Colombian army and national police said on Friday, and spent more than a month there before the killing.
Moise, 53, was fatally shot early on Wednesday at his home by what officials said was a group of foreign, trained killers. The assassination pitched Haiti deeper into turmoil amid political divisions, hunger, and widespread gang violence.
Haitian authorities said on Thursday that the group of assassins comprised 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans.
Seventeen of the men were captured after a gun battle with Haitian authorities in Petionville, a hillside suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince, while three were killed and eight are still at large, according to Haitian police.
Officials have not given a motive for Moise’s killing. He had faced mass protests against his rule since taking office in 2017 — first over corruption allegations and his management of the economy, then over his increasing grip on power.
Colombian officials have confirmed they received requests for information from Haiti on six suspects, two of whom had apparently been killed and four who are under arrest. Initial investigations showed the men were retired members of Colombia’s armed forces, the defense minister said.
Four of the men took an Avianca flight on June 4 to the resort of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, the police and army sources told Reuters. Two days later they crossed the border into Haiti.
One of the men — who Colombian newspaper El Tiempo said had previously been part of the Colombian military’s urban anti-terrorism special forces unit — has 16 photos on his Facebook account that appear to have been taken in the Dominican Republic.
The newspaper reported that another of the men, who it said took the same flight and posted photos from the same locations, was a nurse at the naval hospital in Cartagena.
In Haiti, the government declared a 15-day state of emergency on Wednesday to help authorities apprehend the killers. Although police said the public had helped find the suspects, they urged residents of the capital not to take justice into their own hands.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said on Thursday it was time for the economy to reopen and for the airport to restart operations.
Moise’s killing sparked confusion about who is now the legitimate leader of the country of 11 million people, the poorest in the Americas.
The 1987 constitution stipulates the head of the Supreme Court should take over. But amendments that are not unanimously recognized in the country state that it should be the prime minister, or, in the last year of a president’s mandate — the case with Moise — that parliament should elect a president.
The head of the Supreme Court died last month due to COVID-19 amid a surge in infections in Haiti, which is one of the few countries in the world yet to start a vaccination campaign.
There is no sitting parliament as legislative elections scheduled for late 2019 had been previously postponed amid political unrest.
Just this week, Moise appointed a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, to take over from Joseph, although he had yet to be sworn in when the president was killed.
Joseph appeared on Wednesday to take charge of the situation, but Henry — who is viewed more favorably by the opposition — told Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste he did not consider Joseph the legitimate prime minister.