Armed gunmen have murdered Haiti President Jovenel Moïse and severely wounded First Lady Martine Moïse in a coordinated attack on their home, marking the most high-profile act of violence to hit the Caribbean nation amid significant unrest recently.
Prime Minister Claude Joseph confirmed the targeted killing in a press release. The attackers - some of whom reportedly spoke English and Spanish - ambushed the president’s private residence in the capital city of Port-au-Prince in the early morning hours of July 7, shooting and killing him, while the first lady is in the hospital in critical condition.
“The situation is under control. I am in a meeting with the [Supreme Council of the National Police] to ensure security and take all measures for the continuity of the State,” said Joseph. He added that the police and armed forces have taken control of the country's security situation.
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In one video circulating on social media, a man can be heard speaking in English through a megaphone claiming the attack was part of a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) operation, likely in an effort to create confusion.
“This was a well-orchestrated commando attack,” Bocchit Edmond, Haiti's ambassador to the United States, told the Guardian. “They presented themselves as DEA agents, telling people they had come as part of a DEA operation."
Insecurity has surged across Haiti this year amid significant turmoil brought on by the country’s worsening economic, health and political crises, which prompted widespread anti-government protests.
President Moïse found himself at the center of the uproar. Critics of the president said his term should have ended in February 2021, five years after former President Michel Martelly stepped down in 2016. However, Moïse argued that his five-year term should have extended to February 2022, since he didn't officially take office until early 2017.
InSight Crime Analysis
The assassination of the Haitian president marks a dramatic escalation of the wave of violence that has engulfed the nation in recent months, and will likely contribute to further insecurity in the near future.
Just one week ago, a two-day stretch at the end of June marked a particularly violent period after police union member Guerby Geffrard was murdered.
On June 29, prominent human rights activist Antoinette Duclaire and Diego Charles, a journalist for Radio Tele Vision 2000, were both killed in Port-au-Prince. That same night and into the morning of June 30, at least 19 people were killed in a series of armed attacks in the Delmas 32, Christ-Roi and Avenue N neighborhoods of the capital, according to report from Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network (Réseau National de Défense des Droits de l'Homme - RNDDH).
“There is no doubt … that a climate of terror is being created in the country with the complicity of the State authorities and the rights to life, security, physical and mental integrity of citizens are constantly being violated,” the RNDDH said.
It remains unclear who may be responsible for the assassination of the president.
Leading up to the recent killings, gang kidnappings for ransom had skyrocketed, prompting the president himself to call on citizens to help authorities quell the uptick. At the same time, a group of disgruntled police officers, known as the Fantom 509, had been wreaking chaos across the capital city. After a botched March operation in which four police officers were killed, the group organized violent protests and burnt down several police stations. The group is also accused of carrying out the killings on June 29 and 30.
And in a video filmed June 23, Jimmy Chérizier, alias "Barbecue,” a former police officer turned leader of a powerful gang alliance known as the G9 and Family, called for a revolution against the opposition, business sector and political party of President Moïse, once considered to be an ally of the gang.
The G9 alliance had recently been unsettled as two of its founding members have been embroiled in a bitter battle in the capital, caving to rivalries that predated the G9 and undermining its future stability.
*InSight Crime investigator Douwe den Held contributed reporting to this article. This article will continue to be updated as more details emerge.