PORT-AU-PRINCE • Haitian police say they have arrested a suspected mastermind in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, a Haitian man whom the authorities accused of hiring mercenaries to oust and replace the leader.
Mr Moise was shot dead early last Wednesday at his Port-au-Prince home by what the Haitian authorities describe as a unit of assassins formed of 26 Colombians and two Haitian Americans, plunging the troubled Caribbean nation deeper into turmoil.
National Police Chief Leon Charles told a news conference that the arrested man, 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, flew to Haiti on a private jet in early June, accompanied by hired security guards, and wanted to take over as president.
He did not explain Sanon's motives beyond saying they were political, but added that one of those in custody had contacted him upon being arrested. Sanon, in turn, contacted two other "intellectual authors" of the assassination, Chief Charles added.
"The mission of these attackers was initially to ensure the safety of Emmanuel Sanon, but later the mission was changed... and they presented one of the attackers with an arrest warrant for the president of the republic," he said.
Public records online show a man with Sanon's name worked as a doctor in Florida, but it was not clear if it was the same man. Nor was it clear why Sanon would want to topple Mr Moise, whose murder is the latest in a string of reverses for the struggling country, which has since sought international help.
Washington has rebuffed Haiti's request for troops, though a senior US official said on Sunday it was sending a technical team to assess the situation.
Haitian police have arrested 18 Colombians and three Haitian Americans, including Sanon, over the murder, Chief Charles said.
Five Colombians are still at large and three were killed, he added. The suspected assassins told investigators they were there to arrest him, not kill him, the Miami Herald and a person familiar with the matter said earlier on Sunday.
A source close to the investigation said two Haitian Americans, Mr James Solages and Mr 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. The news follows reports that some of the Colombians said they had gone to work as security personnel in Haiti, including for Mr Moise himself.
The Miami Herald reported that the detained Colombians said they had been hired to work in Haiti by Miami-based company CTU Security, run by Venezuelan emigre Antonio Enmanuel Intriago Valera. Chief Charles indicated that CTU had been used to hire at least some of the Colombian suspects, but gave no details.
Photos and X-ray images posted on social media over the weekend and said to be from Mr Moise's autopsy showed the president's 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. Mr 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.