Haiti’s National Police says they have killed four of the suspected assailants allegedly behind the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on Wednesday morning while two others have been arrested.
“At the moment I am speaking to you now the police is engaged in a battle,” Interim Chief Léon Charles said during a press conference flanked by members of the government, including acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph.
The police chief said three policemen who had been held hostage by the killers had been freed. He did not provide other details, or say what had led police to the alleged attackers. A number of the suspects had taken refuge in Pelerin, the neighborhood where the president lived, Charles said, and police had blocked the entrance and the road leading to the community.
“We will continue to hunt them down,” he said. “Either they will be arrested, or they will be stopped in the exchange of fire. The pursuit will continue.”
The ongoing police operation was expected to go through the night, Communications Minister Pradel Henriquez said. He reminded Haitians that “a state of siege” had been declared that it “involves a curfew” and also limits press freedom.
“There is information circulating on social media that is not in favor of what’s happening here,” he said.
Henriquez noted that some of the alleged attackers were Haitian. He also reiterated that among the assailants “were individuals who spoke English, who spoke Spanish, who entered the home of a president.”
Moïse was killed in the early hours Wednesday morning, according to Joseph, after unknown attackers stormed his house and shot him and his wife, Martine Moïse. The first lady was flown to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, then taken to Jackson Health System’s Ryder Trauma Center.
Moïse was guarded by his security, who are part of a specialized unit of the Haitian National Police assigned to the presidential palace. But sources say there have always been concerns about his security being inadequate, which at one point led him to hire foreigners to beef up his guard. Last August the head of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, Monferrier Dorval, was gunned down not far from the president’s private residence. No one has been charged with the killing.
Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s largest newspaper, reported Wednesday that Moïse’s body was riddled with bullets. There were signs the president may have been tortured.
We found twelve holes in the president’s body,” Pétion-Ville deputy justice of the peace Carl Henry Destin told Le Nouvelliste late Wednesday afternoon. “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. We saw a bullet impact at the level of his forehead, one in each nipple, three at the hip, one in the abdomen.“
The judge told the paper the bullet wounds were made with large-caliber weapons and with 9mm rounds. No other person at the presidential residence was shot except for the first lady, Destin said.
Though opposition and civil society groups had increasingly been calling for Moïse to step down from office, his assassination inside his private residence in Pelerin 5 still came as a shock to Haitians. The streets of the capital including around the closed airport were void of traffic, and shootings could be heard in Pétion-Ville, where police were in a firefight with suspects. The president’s death plunged Haiti deeper into uncertainty. Haiti currently has no parliament, which was dissolved last year, but it does have two prime ministers — one who recently resigned and the other, Dr. Ariel Henry, newly appointed by the president.
On Wednesday, the international community was deeply concerned about chaos erupting in the country and how best to prevent it.
Ruling by decree since January 2020, Moïse had increasingly become unpopular as Haiti faced a series of multipronged crises. Earlier this year, opposition and civil society groups said they no longer recognized him because his term in office had constitutionally come to an end. He argued otherwise, saying he still had until Feb. 7, 2022, before stepping down.
Police did not provide much detail on the killings, or of the suspects who were captured. They confirmed that some of them did speak Spanish, as Joseph had said in a statement in the hours after the assassination.
During the press conference, Joseph, the acting prime minister who earlier in the day had declared himself in charge, appealed for calm. He said he had met with foreign diplomats in Haiti and spent 30 minutes speaking with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“We spoke about elections, we spoke about security, we spoke about a political accord,” Joseph said of the conversation with Blinken.
Helen La Lime, the special representative of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, is scheduled to brief the U.N. Security Council on Thursday about the situation in Haiti. The U.N., like the U.S., has been calling for elections to take place in the country. It is also supporting a controversial referendum on a new constitution that Moïse had been pushing.