Four dead after assassination of Haitian president by ‘armed commandos’

Jovenel Moise killed after gunmen storm his home in Port-au-Prince

Deceased Haitian President Jovenel Moise
Jovenel Moise had been president of Haiti since 2017
(Image credit: Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)

Four people suspected of murdering Haitian president Jovenel Moise have been killed in a shoot-out with police in the capital Port-au-Prince.

Two others thought to be involved in the assassination have been detained by police, while “some remained at large” after the president’s home was stormed early on Wednesday morning, the BBC reports.

Moise, 53, was reportedly “shot multiple times” and his “office and bedroom were ransacked” during the assault on his home, the broadcaster adds. His wife, Martine Moise, has been flown to Florida for treatment and is in a critical but stable condition.

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Deadly assault

Police chief Leon Charles yesterday told reporters that any attackers who remain at large “will be killed or captured”, adding that “four mercenaries were killed [and] two were intercepted under our control”, The Telegraph reports.

“Three policemen who had been taken hostage have been recovered”, he continued, explaining that police “blocked [the suspects] en route as they left the scene of the crime” and that “since then, we have been battling with them”.

The “armed commandos” entered Moise’s home “claiming to be US law enforcement officials”, The Telegraph reports, with video footage seen by the paper but not independently verified showing the attackers shouting: “This is a DEA operation! Everybody stand down! DEA operation! Everybody back up, stand down!”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal law enforcement agency under the US Department of Justice. However, Haiti’s ambassador to the US, Bocchit Edmond, was quick to say there was “no way” DEA agents had carried out the attack, suggesting that the assassination was most likely done by “professional mercenaries”.

“It was something carried out by professionals, by killers,” he told The Guardian. “But since the investigation has just been opened, we prefer to wait on legal authorities to have a better assessment of the situation. We don’t know for sure, with real certainty, who’s behind this.”

The footage of the attack shows the gunmen “storming the politician’s home before he was shot dead in front of his terrified wife”, The Sun reports. The “dramatic footage” shows “cars rolling towards Moise’s house as other armed gang members follow on foot”.

The country’s interim president Claude Joseph said that the attackers were “foreigners who spoke English and Spanish”. Haiti’s official languages are Creole and French.

Haitian magistrate Carl Henry Destin told Nouvelliste, a Swiss newspaper, that Moise’s body was hit 12 times in the forehead, chest, hips and abdomen, adding: “The president’s office and bedroom were ransacked. We found him lying on his back, blue pants, a white shirt smeared with blood, his mouth open, his left eye gouged out.”

First Lady Martine Moise is in stable but critical condition and has been moved to Miami for treatment. According to Miami-based broadcaster WPLG, she was “shot multiple times in the incident”, receiving “wounds to her arms and thigh along with a severe injury to her hand and her abdomen”.

Destin added that the couple’s daughter, Jomarlie, survived by hiding in her brother’s room, while two staff members had been tied up by the attackers.

‘State of siege’

Interim President Joseph described the attack as an “inhuman and barbaric act”, adding that “all measures have been taken to ensure continuity” following Moise’s death and that “democracy and the republic will win”.

Urging the public to remain calm following the assassination, he said: “The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti”, while also declaring a “state of siege” across the Caribbean country.

The state of siege means “gatherings are banned and military members can be used in police roles”, The Telegraph says. It also allows “extensions of executive powers”, while “all borders have been closed”.

NPR reports that “Haiti has asked the US government for assistance with the investigation” amid fears “that the assassins could have escaped over the land border to the Dominican Republic or by sea”. The Dominican Republic announced shortly after the attack that it was closing the border and reinforcing security in the area, describing the frontier as “completely calm”.

The murder has “prompted international condemnation and concern”, the Financial Times says, with Joe Biden describing the situation as “very worrisome”. Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Haitians to “remain united in the face of this abhorrent act”.

Amnesty International said it was “concerned at the potential escalation of violence in coming days”, adding that the assassination should serve as “a wake-up call to the international community”.

Haiti is one of “the poorest countries in the western hemisphere” and has “struggled to achieve stability since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986”, grappling with “a series of coups and foreign interventions”, The Telegraph reports.

A UN peacekeeping mission tasked with “restoring order after a rebellion toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004” failed, leaving “the country still in disarray”, while it has also “been buffeted by a series of natural disasters and still bears the scars of a major earthquake in 2010”.

An ex-banana exporter, Moise won power in 2017 but has faced “accusations of corruption” and “widespread demonstrations in the capital and other cities earlier this year”, the BBC says.

Haiti is also facing “a wave of gang violence and kidnappings, particularly in the capital, with a number of its districts becoming no-go areas”, the broadcaster adds, while parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in October 2019 had been delayed meaning Moise was ruling by decree at the time of his death.

The assassination came just 24 hours after Moise had named a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, who was to be tasked with “preparing the country for presidential elections in the next two months”, The Guardian says.

Opponents of the late president have accused him of “fuelling political violence by providing gangs with guns and money to intimidate his adversaries”, the paper adds.

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