Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was assassinated in a brazen attack at his residence by men speaking a mixture of English and Spanish. The men tried to pass themselves off as agents of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
President Moise’s wife, Martine, was shot and critically injured. She was transported to a Miami hospital where she’s listed in stable but critical condition.
The attackers, all foreigners, were involved in a shootout with police and security forces after they left the president’s residence. Four were killed and two others were arrested and taken into custody. Haitian authorities are searching for the rest.
A Brazen Attack
The attackers stormed the presidential residence around 1 a.m. on Wednesday after taking three Haitian policemen hostage. Those officers were later freed.
Magistrate Carl Henry Destin in a statement to the Novelist newspaper said that President Moise suffered 12 different bullet wounds in the attack. His wife was also shot and their bedroom ransacked.
Moise’s three children were reportedly brought to a safe location. One daughter hid in her brother’s room during the attack. Three domestic staff members were tied up but otherwise unharmed.
Acting Prime Minister Claude Joseph called the attackers “mercenaries, who spoke English and Spanish” although later one government official stated that there are Haitians among the suspects. The official languages of Haiti are Creole and French.
Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Bocchit Edmond spoke to CNN saying that authorities were trying to determine the identities and nationalities of the assassins.
“We are trying to move forward and see how we can identify more of those who participated in this horrible act,” the ambassador said.
A video shared by Reuters and the NY Post showed the attackers trying to pass themselves off as DEA agents, yelling “DEA operation stand down!” and then climbing into several vehicles departing the scene.
Edmond said that while the attackers had disguised themselves as U.S. drugs agents, he believed there was “no way” they really were U.S. agents. “I believe they are fake DEA agents,” he said to news media members.
“We don’t know how they came in,” Edmond said referencing how the attackers got into the country.
Police chief Léon Charles said that in addition to the four suspects killed and two captured a manhunt is still underway for the remaining assassins. It is unsure if they have left the country.
“They will be killed or captured,” Charles said. “We blocked [the suspects] en route as they left the scene of the crime,” he said at a news conference.
Haiti Declares a Stage of Siege
Following the killing of President Moise, Haiti is in a “state of siege” emergency level, which is one step below a “state of war.” Under the state of siege, Haiti’s national borders are all closed and martial law is temporarily imposed. Haiti’s military and national police are empowered to enforce the law.
With the airports closed, it is suspected that any surviving attackers may try to cross the land border with the neighboring Dominican Republic.
It is unclear who will succeed Moise. This throws the already volatile country farther into chaos. The president of the Supreme Court is next in line according to the constitution but he recently died of COVID-19. Prime Minister Joseph would have to be approved by a vote from parliament, which presents another challenge.
President Moise had been ruling by decree for more than a year after failing to hold elections thereby dissolving the parliament. In recent months, opposition leaders were demanding that Moise step down; they have, however, denounced his assassination.
“In this painful circumstance, the political forces of the opposition condemn with utmost rigor this heinous crime that is at odds with democratic principles,” their released statement said.
Elections are slated for later this year.
Chaotic violence reigns in the streets as different groups openly battle for influence. COVID-19 rates remain high as Haiti’s vaccination rates are insignificant. More than 60 percent of the population lives under the poverty line.
President Joe Biden said he was “shocked and saddened to hear of the horrific assassination,” and condemned “this heinous act.” The U.S. Embassy said it was restricting U.S. staff to its compounds for the time being.