Haitian authorities have arrested a man they say helped orchestrate the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, the country’s police chief announced on Sunday.
Moise was killed Wednesday in his Port-au-Prince home, in an attack that has shaken a country already rattled by rampant violence and political instability.
The arrested suspect, identified as 63-year-old Christian Emmanuel Sanon, entered the country on a private jet in June, said Police Chief Leon Charles at a news conference.
Police did not say what Sanon would be charged with, or what his motives may have been, beyond saying he arrived with “political intentions.”
Sanon is alleged to have been in touch with a Florida-based Venezuelan security firm to recruit 26 Colombian mercenaries and two Haitian-Americans. Their first assignment was to provide security for Sanon, but this mission is alleged to have evolved overtime.
Police have previously said a group of at least 28 people are suspected in the killing. At least 20 of those suspects have been detained, including two American nationals. Three suspects have been killed, while a mass manhunt is underway for the five suspects still on the loose.
Police said they received information on the operation from the detained Colombians.
After the assassination, Sanon was the first person one of the alleged assassins called, said the police chief.
Upon raiding Sanon’s house, police said they found 20 boxes of 12 and 9 millimeter caliber ammunition, rifle and pistol holsters, 24 unused shooting targets, a cap labeled “DEA,” two vehicles, and four Dominican Republic license plates.
Police said they also found correspondence with “different sectors in the country” but did not specify who or what.
It is not yet clear if Sanon, who police said was born in Marigot, Haiti, has retained legal representation to address potential charges, and he has yet to publicly comment on the allegations.
Charles said the Haitian police are working with intelligence authorities in the Colombian government to trace how the mercenaries got to Haiti, who they were working with in Colombia, and who financed the operation.
Authorities have described the group of suspects as “professional killers,” consisting of members of the Colombian military. But even as more details begin to emerge of the people who allegedly killed Moise, little is known about the suspected masterminds and their motivation for the attack.
The arrest of Sanon follows the arrests of two Americans, identified by Elections Minister Mathias Pier, as James Solages and Joseph Vincent, both naturalized citizens from Haiti.
The US State Department said on Friday it was aware of the arrests, and was providing investigative assistance at Haiti’s request.
A delegation with representatives from the State Department, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland security is being sent to Haiti, a White House official said Sunday. Officials are also reviewing a request from Haiti to send several hundred US troops to aid in stabilization efforts, said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Fox News Sunday, though he declined to “get ahead of that process.”
Colombia has also lent its assistance with security and investigation after the attack, sending a special police unit and national intelligence officials, as well as personnel from Interpol assigned to Colombia’s police.
It was 1 a.m. when the attackers stormed the President’s private residence in Petion-Ville, a suburb of Haiti’s capital, shooting Moise 16 times, according to former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. First lady Martine Moise, who was also shot in the attack, was evacuated to intensive care in a hospital in Miami.
The Caribbean nation of roughly 11 million people, many of them living amid poverty, now faces an even more uncertain future.
Moise’s death takes place against a background of extreme violence in the capital Port-au-Prince which has claimed the lives of many citizens in recent weeks. Haiti was already dealing with political turmoil, a growing humanitarian crisis, and a worsening Covid-19 epidemic.
The assassination also leaves a huge power vacuum in Haiti, and no legal roadmap for Moise’s succession. Its parliament is effectively defunct and two men are simultaneously claiming to be the country’s rightful prime minister.
Parliament became dysfunctional in January 2020, when the mandates of two-thirds of the 30-member Senate chamber expired, leaving just 10 senators in office.
The supreme court president would normally be next in line to take over on an interim basis, but he recently died of Covid-19, judge Jean Wilner Morin, president of the national association of Haitian judges, told CNN.
Joseph made clear he was assuming leadership on Wednesday, when he declared a “state of siege” in Haiti, closed the country’s borders and imposed martial law. Joseph has vowed to hold onto power until presidential and legislative elections are held in September.
But he has not been confirmed by parliament, which has not sat since 2020 – and he was in the process of being replaced by Ariel Henry, whom the president appointed on July 5, shortly before his death.
“Claude Joseph is not prime minister, he is part of my government,” Henry told the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste on Thursday.
Pierre, the elections minister, has said Joseph would keep his role until the elections, which should take place as planned.
On Friday, the country’s 10 remaining senators instead nominated one of their own number, Sen. Joseph Lambert, as Haiti’s interim president – a direct challenge to the current interim leadership.
But less than 24 hours later, Lambert appeared to pull back, saying on Saturday that his swearing-in had been postponed without giving a new date for the event.
US delegation meets rival contenders
Members of the US delegation met with rival contenders for the country’s leadership on Sunday, according to Lambert and a source in Joseph’s government.
In a tweet posted on Sunday, Lambert said he had discussed his own bid for the top job with the delegation, and they “have made an appointment this evening for the following steps.”
According to the government source, the American representatives on Sunday asked Lambert to show patience in his pursuit of the presidency. Lambert did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
CNN has reached out to the US State Department for comment on the claims of both Lambert and the government source but has not received a response.
The government source also said the delegation later met with Joseph and Henry at the US Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
In their meeting with the US delegation, the two rival prime ministers were encouraged to look for a way to collaborate, the source said.
Henry did not comment publicly on Sunday’s meeting and did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
CNN’s Helen Regan, Stefano Pozzebon and Etant Dupain contributed to this report.