Authorities in the United States have arrested a suspect in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, US media outlets and the Reuters news agency reported, citing unidentified law enforcement and government sources.
Mario Antonio Palacios is scheduled to have his first appearance in US federal court on Tuesday afternoon, the Miami Herald newspaper and McClatchy reported on Tuesday, citing multiple US government sources.
Palacios is a former member of the Colombian military who Haitian authorities have said was part of a mercenary group that assassinated Moise in July.
The Miami Herald said Palacios – who is also known as “Floro” – would be the first suspect accused of involvement in Moise’s assassination to face formal charges.
Moise, 53, was killed in the early hours of July 7, 2021, when a crew of armed gunmen stormed his home in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Then-Prime Minister Claude Joseph said at the time that the assassination was “a highly coordinated attack by a highly trained and heavily armed group”.
The killing thrust Haiti, which was already struggling with a political crisis and widespread gang violence during Moise’s years in office, into deeper instability and raised fears among residents of further attacks.
Haitian authorities have arrested dozens of people, including 18 Colombians and two Americans of Haitian descent, in connection with the assassination. But their investigation has produced few concrete answers so far as to why Moise was killed.
Critics in Haiti also have complained of slow progress, intimidation and witness tampering in the investigation.
Palacios, 43, was arrested in Panama on Monday as he was being deported from Jamaica to Colombia, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Palacios was detained during a stopover in Panama and asked to “voluntarily” board a flight to the US, a Colombian immigration source told Reuters. Haiti has also issued an Interpol red notice for Palacios.
The Caribbean nation has faced a surge in gang violence and kidnappings for ransom since Moise’s assassination. Haiti has also struggled to rebuild in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in August, while residents have faced crippling fuel shortages and soaring prices.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry said he was forced to cancel a speech on the country’s independence day on Saturday after gunfire erupted in the northern city of Gonaives, about 150km (90 miles) from Port-au-Prince.
Local media reported that one person died and two were injured in the gunfire that forced Henry and others to duck and seek shelter as they walked out of a cathedral, where Henry was attending a mass.
“We cannot let bandits from any background, driven by the lowest financial interests, blackmail the state,” said Henry, who took up the prime minister’s post less than two weeks after Moise was killed.
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