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Russia concerned about reports of US citizens among suspects in Haitian president’s assassination

Police stand guard near the private residence of Haiti's President Jovenel Moise after he was shot dead by gunmen with assault rifles, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Russia has expressed serious concern over reports that two Americans are among the suspects detained in the brazen assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise. 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova voiced concern at a press briefing on Friday, after Haitian police said two Americans of Haitian origin have been arrested along with15 Colombians on suspicion of killing the nation’s president earlier in the day.

Zakharova further denounced the audacious and demonstrative killing of Moise, saying Moscow expects that not only the perpetrators, but also the masterminds of the assassination will be found.

She also underlined the concerns of Russian President Vladimir Putin that the internal conflict in Haiti may be manipulated by external players to serve geopolitical purposes.

Moscow is closely following the investigation into the assassination of Moise, which it believes happened as a result of internal instability in the country, Zakharova added.

The development came after Haitian police blamed a 28-member assassination squad made up of Americans and Colombians for the killing of Moise.

Haiti’s National Police Chief Leon Charles said in a press conference in capital Port-au-Prince that they have arrested 15 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian origin.

Three Colombians have been killed while eight others are on the loose, he added, vowing to track down the other eight suspects.

The two Americans among the 17 suspects detained in the killing of the Haitian president were identified as James Solages and Joseph Vincent.

Charles described the killers as “mercenaries” and said security forces had engaged in a fierce gun battle with the suspected assassins.

Earlier, Justice of the Peace Clement Noel was cited as saying by Nouvelliste newspaper that the two US citizens who were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Moise said that he was not supposed to be eliminated.

"They said that they were translators. The mercenaries' goal was to arrest President Moise under the warrant of an investigating magistrate, and not kill him," said Noel, citing the suspect's testimonies.

A search of the suspects' vehicles by investigators revealed firearms and US cash, including a server of a video camera that was installed in Moise's residence, he added.

Moise, 53, was shot dead and his wife was seriously wounded after gunmen, appeared to be a group of highly trained killers, stormed their home in the hills above the capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 am local time on Wednesday.

The assault opened up a political vacuum just as he and other civil leaders were preparing for elections and discussing revisions to Haiti’s constitution.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who has now taken helm, declared a state of emergency across the country, endowing police with wide-ranging powers to hunt down the killers.

A 15-day period of mourning for the slain president has also been announced.

Moise took office in 2017 and his term saw fierce protests, with the opposition accusing him of corruption and seeking to install a dictatorship by overstaying his mandate.

The Wednesday attack came amid a rising wave of violence in a country divided by a dispute over when Moise’s term in office should have ended. Moise had been ruling Haiti by decree after the country failed to hold legislative elections in 2018. The opposition said his five-year term should have ended in February 2021.

A nation of 11 million, Haiti is the poorest country in the Americas with 4 million people living in hunger, widespread gang violence and armed groups controlling broad areas of the country including many neighborhoods in Haiti’s capital. It faces significant risks from the COVID-19 pandemic and has been racked with political instability.

The country has long been heavily influenced by foreign powers, particularly the US and France, which are widely believed to have installed the nation’s former dictators or pushed through presidential nominees in national elections.

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