Two Americans among 15 detained over assassination of Haitian President and Colombia Says 13 of Its Ex-Soldiers Are Among Suspects in Haiti.
Haitian officials took the extraordinary step of requesting that the United States send in troops to protect the country’s infrastructure. Fears grew that the fragile country may descend further into turmoil.
Elections Minister Mathias Pierre told CNN two US citizens were allegedly linked to Wednesday’s attack. Pierre identified the men as James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both naturalized citizens from Haiti.
In a press conference in the capital Port-au-Prince on Thursday, Haiti Chief of Police Leon Charles said 28 people were involved in the assassination, including 26 Colombians, in addition to the two Haitian-Americans.
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Seventeen people have been “caught,” Charles said. Haitian police are looking for at least eight more people.
Separately on Thursday, Colombia’s Defense Ministry announced at least six alleged attackers were retired members of the Colombian Army.
In a video statement, Defense Minister Diego Molano said Interpol requested information from the Colombian government and the National Police about the alleged perpetrators.
“Preliminary information indicates that they are Colombian citizens, retired members of the National Army,” Molano said.
A clearer picture of the group that Haiti accuses of assassinating President Jovenel Moïse has emerged as officials in the Colombian defense ministry identified 13 suspects by name and said that all were former members of the Colombian military.
Two have been killed, the officials said, and the other 11 are in custody. They said some had traveled to Haiti as early as May.
In the past, some former members of the Colombian military, which receives heavy financial support and training from the U.S. military, have acted as hired guns after their service.
Colombians are attractive to those looking for military help, because they often have years of experience fighting left-wing guerrillas and drug traffickers inside their own country — and are often trained by U.S. experts.
Colombian officials condemned the attack and said they were doing everything possible to assist the Haitian government in its search for the truth. Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, the head of the national police, said that Colombian officials were investigating four businesses that they believed had recruited people for the operation.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused had left Bogotá as early as May and flown to Panama before traveling to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti. Others, the officials said, arrived in the Dominican Republic in early June, and then traveled to Haiti. The two countries share a Caribbean island, Hispaniola.
General Luis Fernando Navarro said that the accused people had left the military between about 2002 and 2018 and that they were involved in “mercenary activities” with “purely economic” motives.
It is not clear whether the people recruited for the operation knew the specifics of the task they were being assigned, according to John Marulanda, the head of the association for retired military officials.
Paul Angelo, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies security issues, said that Colombians had a history of being recruited into criminal tasks because they sometimes had limited options once they left the armed forces.
“Colombia is a country that for far too long had military conscription, which fell on the shoulders of the poorest men in the country,” he said. “When an economic underclass is taught how to fight and how to conduct military operations and little else, those skills don’t transfer readily to the civilian sector except in the private security realm.”
A former officer in Colombia’s army, who asked not to be identified, said that a mercenary who traveled abroad could easily be paid about $2,700 a month, compared with a military salary of about $300 a month — even for soldiers with years of combat experience.
“It’s not just Haiti, it’s Kabul, Mexico, Yemen, Emirates,” he said in a telephone interview, listing where former Colombian soldiers have gone.