PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 8 (Reuters) – Haitian police killed four suspects in the assassination of President Jovenel Moise and arrested six more including two Haitian Americans, a minister said on Thursday, as authorities sought the masterminds behind the killing that stunned the impoverished Caribbean nation.
Moise, 53, was shot dead early on Wednesday at his home by what officials said was a commando of apparently foreign, trained killers, pitching the poorest country in the Americas deeper into turmoil amidst political divisions, hunger, and widespread gang violence.
Police Chief Leon Charles said in a televised briefing on Thursday that authorities had tracked down the suspected assassins to a house near the scene of the crime in Petionville, a northern, hillside suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince.
A fierce firefight lasted late into the night on Wednesday and six suspects were taken in custody, while four corpses were retrieved, authorities said. Officers were heavily patrolling the area from early on Thursday.
“We have the physical authors, now we are looking for the intellectual authors,” Charles said.
Two Haitian Americans were among those detained, Haiti’s minister of elections and interparty relations, Mathias Pierre, told Reuters. He identified one of them as James Solages, a U.S. citizen of Haitian descent, but did not name the other.
The U.S. State Department said it was in regular contact with Haitian officials, including investigative authorities, to discuss how the United States could provide assistance. A State Department spokesman, however, could not confirm if a U.S. citizen was among those detained.
Officials in mostly French and Creole-speaking Haiti had said on Wednesday that the assassins appeared to have spoken in English and Spanish.
A crowd of locals gathered on Thursday morning to watch the police operation unfold, with some setting fire to the suspects’ cars and to the house where they had bunkered down. Bullets were strewn in the street.
“Burn them!” shouted some of the hundreds of people who gathered outside the police station where the suspects were being held.
Charles said the local population had helped police track down the suspects but he implored residents in the sprawling seafront city of 1 million people not to take justice into their own hands.
A 15-day state of emergency was declared on Wednesday to help authorities apprehend the killers. But interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said on Thursday it was time for the economy to reopen and said he had given instructions for the airport to restart operations