A group of Colombians and Haitian Americans suspected of assassinating Haitian President Jovenel Moise have reportedly told investigators they were there to arrest him, not kill him.
Moise was shot dead early on Wednesday at his Port-au-Prince home by what Haitian authorities say was a unit of assassins made up of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, plunging the troubled Caribbean nation into deeper turmoil.
‘They probably were watching and waiting for the opportunity for them to do it,’ said Investigative Judge Clément Noël, who was among the first to question the two Haitian-Americans among the 19 suspects detained so far.
James A. Solages, 35, and Vincent Joseph, 56, both from South Florida, insisted that the plan was not to assassinate him.
Their mission, Noël and another person who debriefed the men said they were told, was to ‘arrest the president (at his home) and go to the presidential palace with him.’
The two Haitian Americans ‘said they were there, but they didn’t go to kill the president,’ Noël said, according to The Miami Herald.
‘They said they knew what happened, but they didn’t participate in the killing. They were there to translate.’
Jovenal Moise, the president of Hait, was murdered in the early hours of Wednesday at his home in the capital city, Port-au-Prince
Haitian President Jovenel Moïse and First Lady Martine are pictured together in 2017. Moïse was riddled with 12 bullet holes and had his eye gouged out during Wednesday’s brutal attack, which killed him and seriously injured his wife
Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise are shown to the media in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Thursday
Weaponry, mobile phones, passports and other items are being shown to the media along with suspects in the assassination
Police lined up the 17 assassination suspects, including two American citizens and 15 Colombians, behind a table displaying an array of firearms, machetes, sledgehammers and several Colombian passports
Haitian-born American citizens James Solages, 35, (above) and Joseph Vincent, 55, are said to have confessed to being involved in Wednesday’s early morning raid at the president’s mansion near Port-au-Prince
Solages (pictured) and Vincent – who both live in Florida – told authorities ‘they were translators’
The murder and uncertainty about who hatched the plot is the latest in a succession of blows to hit the struggling country, which has appealed for international help.
Washington has so far rebuffed Haiti’s request for troops, though a senior U.S. official said on Sunday that Washington was sending a technical team to assess the situation.
Citing people who had spoken to some of the 19 suspects detained so far, the Miami Herald said they said their mission was to arrest Moise and take him to the presidential palace.
A source close to the investigation said the two Haitian Americans, James Solages and Joseph Vincent, told investigators they were translators for the Colombian commando unit that had an arrest warrant.
But when they arrived, they found him dead.
Footage circulating online purportedly taken by a neighbour of the president shows men with rifles arriving outside the property
A car riddled with bullet holes outside the late president’s home in the hills near Port-au-Prince on Wednesday
The President of Haiti Jovenel Moise was shot dead in his home in the Pelerin 5 neighbourhood in the hills above Port-au-Prince
Haitian police did not reply to a request for comment.
The news follows reports that some of the Colombians had said they had gone to work as security personnel on Haiti, including for Moise himself.
The Miami Herald reported the detained Colombians said they were hired to work in Haiti by Miami-based company CTU Security, run by Venezuelan emigre Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera.
Neither CTU nor Intriago could be reached for comment. One phone number associated with the company in public records sent calls to an answering machine that made a reference to the fictional TV character Jack Bauer, who fought terrorism in the series ’24.’
‘Thank you for calling CTU security. For Tony Intriago please leave a message or send a text. For Jack Bauer wait for the next season. Thank you for calling and have a great day.’
Footage showed two Colombian suspects being hauled through the streets with ropes around their midriffs, one of the men was shirtless and covered in blood as people shoved him amid shouts and shrieks from the mob.
Another male suspect is seen covered in blood as he was loaded into the back of a police car Thursday – one day on from the deadly raid on the president’s mansion
The two men were reportedly found hiding in bushes by civilians who roughed them up before turning them over to police
Haitian police transport two other men in the back of a cop trailer to the police station of Petion Ville in Port-au-Prince. Police said the two men are suspects in the murder of Haiti president Jovenel Moïse
The bodies of two of the people killed by police are pictured being transported away in a police vehicle Thursday
Social media profiles that appeared to belong to Intriago included a Facebook photo showing a man in tactical gear pointing a high-powered rifle.
Other photos on Instagram showed ammunition, guns, and people engaged in tactical training.
Photos and X-ray images posted on social media at the weekend said to be from Moise’s autopsy showed his body riddled with bullet holes, a fractured skull and other broken bones, underscoring the brutal nature of the attack.
Via social media, Haitians in parts of the capital Port-au-Prince were planning protests this week against the interim prime minister and acting head of state Claude Joseph.
Joseph’s right to lead the country has been challenged by other senior politicians, threatening to exacerbate the turmoil engulfing the poorest country in the Americas.
Meanwhile, one of Haiti’s top gang leaders, Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer known as Barbecue, said on Saturday his men would take to the streets to protest the assassination.
Cherizier, boss of the so-called G9 federation of nine gangs, said police and opposition politicians had conspired with the ‘stinking bourgeoisie’ to ‘sacrifice’ Moise.
Gunfire rang out overnight on Saturday in the capital, which has suffered a surge in gang violence in recent months, displacing thousands and hampering economic activity.
Moise had been ruling by decree since January 2020, with only 10 senators left in power and an entirely vacant lower chamber.
On Monday Moise had appointed Ariel Henry, a 71-year-old former minister of interior and respected neurosurgeon, as his latest prime minister.
POWER STRUGGLE: Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph (left) has seized power of the country, declaring a state of emergency, just days before he was due to be replaced by the country’s coronavirus tsar Ariel Henry (right), the man Moise had named as Joseph’s successor
Joseph Lambert (second from right, pictured with Jovenal Moise and his wife Martine Moise on January 12, 2018) has said that he should be in charge of Haiti
Henry had not taken up the role by the time Moise was assassinated two days later, and so interim prime minister Claude Joseph has remained in power, with the support so far of the United States and UN.
Joseph said that as head of the government ‘who is still in function’, he and other members of the government held a special meeting of Haiti’s security apparatus and decided to ‘declare a state of siege throughout the entire country’.
The two-week declaration of martial law permits the police and security members to enter homes, control traffic and take special security measures and ‘all general measures that permit the arrest of the assassins’.
The decree also forbids meetings meant to incite disorder.
Elections Minister Mathias Pierre said Joseph would keep that role until presidential and legislative elections are held on September 26.
‘This is part of the chaos certain people are trying to create in the country,’ said Pierre, blaming Joseph’s opponents for destabilizing the country.
‘For us, this is a second attempt to assassinate the president. We are doing what we have to do to establish stability and prepare for elections.’
Henry’s appointment was made unilaterally by Moise, without political agreement – leading many to question its legitimacy.
To further complicate matters, a third person on Friday then claimed to be the legitimate ruler.
Joseph Lambert, head of Haiti’s senate, was on Friday nominated to be interim president.
‘I was chosen unanimously,’ he told The Miami Herald. ‘That doesn’t add to the conflict.