Two Haitian-Americans with ties to South Florida — including one who previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti — are among the 28 alleged assassins of President Jovenel Moïse, officials announced Thursday.
James Solages, 35, and Vincent Joseph, 55, allegedly took part in the brazen attack on the Haitian leader, who was reportedly shot a dozen times at his Port-au-Prince home on Wednesday, officials said. His wife, Martine, was critically wounded.
The two men were paraded along with 15 other suspects, all Colombia nationals, in front of journalists during a press conference late Thursday. In all, the hit squad comprised 28 gunmen, including 26 Colombians, officials said.
PICTURED: Two American ‘mercenaries’ arrested alongside 15 Colombians over assassination of Haiti president Jovenel Moïse as three suspects are shot dead and eight remain on the run
Haitian police now say that two US citizens are among 17 alleged ‘foreign mercenaries’ who have been arrested in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
James Solages, 35, and Joseph Vincent, both US citizens of Haitian descent, were arrested along with 15 Colombian nationals over Wednesday’s brazen raid on Moïse’s mansion in the hills above Port-au-Prince, according to Haitian police.
Solanges is the president of a charity based in south Florida and claims to be a former bodyguard at Canada’s embassy in Haiti. No additional information was immediately available on Vincent.
After earlier claiming seven suspects were killed, Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police, now claims that only three other suspects were killed by police, saying eight others are on the run and identifying all of the dead and at-large suspects as Colombian.
‘Foreigners came to our country to kill the president,’ Charles said. ‘There were … 26 Colombians, identified by their passports … and two Haitian Americans as well.’
‘We are going to bring them to justice,’ he said as the 17 suspects sat handcuffed on the floor during a press conference on Thursday night, where a variety of weapons and Colombian passports were arrayed on a table.
The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that Haitian Americans were in custody but could not confirm or comment.
Haitian authorities have still not revealed a motive for the killing, what evidence led them to the suspects, or who they believe masterminded the plot — and skepticism is growing among the Haitian public over the government’s account of the assassination.
Meanwhile, Interim President Claude Joseph tightened his grip on sole power in Haiti, despite the lack of legal framework for succession and a dispute with his replacement, whom Moïse named just a day before his assassination.
At the news conference, Charles, the police chief, urged people to stay calm and let police do their work as he warned that authorities needed evidence they were destroying, including cars belonging to the suspects that were torched by a mob.
Officials did not address a motive for the slaying, saying only that the attack, condemned by Haiti´s main opposition parties and the international community, was carried out by ‘a highly trained and heavily armed group.’
Not everyone was buying the government’s description of the attack. When Haitian journalist Robenson Geffrard, who writes for a local newspaper and has a radio show, tweeted a report on the police chief´s comments, he drew a flood of responses expressing skepticism.
Many wondered how the sophisticated attackers described by police could penetrate Moïse’s home, security detail and panic room and then escape unharmed but were then caught without planning a successful getaway.
Questions are now mounting about the nation’s future and who will be Moise’s successor as Haiti is already in the grips of poverty, gang warfare and accusations of corruption.
Moise’s assassination came just one day after Moise named Ariel Henry as the new prime minister, taking over from Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph once he builds his government.
However, Joseph assumed sole power of the embattled country, declaring a ‘state of siege’ granting him absolute authority and the two men have given somewhat conflicting accounts over who should rightfully be in power.
Joseph on Thursday said he had spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and asked the US for ‘technical support’ to help Haiti hold elections in the coming days while the White House also called for Haiti to hold an election this year.
Solages is the president of the board of directors of Jacmel First, a charity founded in south Florida in 2019 which is focused on ending childhood hunger in Haiti.
Haiti’s Minister of Elections and Inter-party Relations Mathias Pierre told the Associated Press he would not provide additional details about Solages’ background. He also did not detail either of the American’s alleged involvement in the assassination or what evidence led to their arrests.
According to his charity’s bio page, Solages previously worked as the chief commander of bodyguards for The Canadian embassy in Haiti and is a building engineer specializing in infrastructure development.
Currently, he works as a corporate executive serving as a consultant in different locations throughout South Florida and also serves as a politician ‘promoting his country by focusing on compassion programs and counseling economic development program’, his bio reads.
He also describes himself as a ‘certified diplomatic agent,’ an advocate for underprivileged children and a budding politician.
National Police Director Leon Charles said at a press briefing Thursday afternoon that authorities ‘have the physical perpetrators in hand and we are looking for the instigators.’
At least two of the men brought in alive were reportedly found hiding in bushes by civilians who roughed them up before turning them over to police while others were captured or killed during an overnight shootout with security forces.
National Police Director Leon Charles told Radio Metropole Thursday that other members of the hit squad remain at large and vowed that the other people responsible ‘will be killed or arrested.’
No motive has been given for the attack which left Moïse riddled with 12 bullet holes and with his eye gouged out.
A crowd of local residents took matters into their own hands Thursday, surrounding two male suspects who they claimed were hiding in bushes in Port-au-Prince.
The crowd was seen grabbing the suspects by their shirts and the back of their pants, pushing and slapping them before police officers arrived.
Cops placed the two men in the back of a police pickup truck to transport them to the police station of Petion Ville in Port-au-Prince as the crowd chased after the vehicle.
The crowd gathered outside the police station and demanded authorities hand the men over to them so they could ‘burn them’ in retaliation for killing their president.
‘They killed the president! Give them to us. We’re going to burn them!’ the crowd chanted.
They later set fire to several abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes that they apparently believed belonged to the suspects.
The cars didn’t have license plates and inside one of them was an empty box of bullets and some water.
PM Joseph urged citizens not to lynch any of Moise’s suspected assassins but to hand them over to the police.
It is not clear how the locals identified the men or the vehicles as wanted in connection to the assassination of their president.
However, the detention of the two men took the number of suspects brought in alive to six while seven have been killed, with more still at large, according to police.
Police chief Charles said late Wednesday that four ‘mercenaries’ were shot dead in the exchange between members of the suspected hit squad and police as they tried to flee the scene.
Three police officers were taken hostage by the suspected assassins, but were safely rescued amid a police shootout with the suspects.
Charles said two suspects were captured and taken into police custody alive.
The bodies of two of the people killed were transported away in the back of a police van as locals gathered and peered through the windows.
Charles said cops had been ‘battling’ with commandos throughout Wednesday, with some of his officers taken hostage at one point before being freed.
An unspecified number of attackers remained at large, he said. Charles did not detail what evidence had led authorities to the suspects.
PM Joseph previously said some of the gang are believed to be from Colombia and Venezuela.