A lone security guard at the Taiwanese embassy in Haiti was responsible for the arrests of 11 suspects in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, after a group of heavily armed commandos invaded the diplomatic compound the evening following the murder.
The guard’s harrowing ordeal – during which he concealed himself, undetected, in a Toyota RAV4 with tinted windows for 18 hours as he helped guide police outside on retaking the building – was recounted to The Globe and Mail by a source in Haiti with direct knowledge of the situation.
The new details help shed light on the chaotic aftermath of Mr. Moïse’s murder. And they come as authorities release more information on the suspects, including a former security guard for the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince who reportedly told investigators that he found the hit job on the internet.
Police have arrested 15 men in connection with the assassination, and killed at least four others in gun battles. Nine more are still being sought. The 28-man hit squad was made up primarily of Colombian mercenaries, with two Haitian-Americans, Haiti’s National Police said.
“Foreigners came to our country to kill the president,” police chief Léon Charles told reporters.
One of the Americans arrested, James Solages, 35, was employed by the Canadian mission’s former security contractor in 2010, the Canadian government confirmed to The Globe earlier this week. The contractor has not worked for Canada since 2010.
Who exactly hired the accused assassins, and what their motive was, remains unclear.
Mr. Moïse had spent the past year fighting opposition parties over the date his term was to expire. Since postponing parliamentary elections in 2019, he had ruled by decree. The country was also riven with protests over political corruption and fuel prices during his term.
A video circulated on social media in Haiti shows the 11 men arrested at the Taiwanese embassy bloodied and bruised, wearing jeans and combat boots. In the video, the group is sitting on the floor of a military base, their hands tied behind their backs, surrounded by soldiers in combat fatigues.
Photos released by the Haitian National Police show dozens of weapons and other tools that the men were allegedly carrying when they were arrested. These include assault rifles, body armour, axes and sledgehammers.
A group of men invaded Mr. Moïse’s private home in Petion-Ville, an affluent Port-au-Prince suburb, around 1 a.m. Wednesday. They shot Mr. Moïse to death and critically wounded his wife, Martine Moïse, who has been airlifted to Florida for treatment. Police said Mr. Moïse was shot 12 times and had one eye punctured.
In the hours after the killing, police cornered some suspects in the shrubbery around the neighbourhood and tracked down others to a house where they were staying.
But many of the gunmen eluded capture all day.
Shortly before 9:45 p.m. that evening, the lone security guard was on duty at the Taiwanese embassy, roughly two kilometres from Mr. Moïse’s home, when 11 of the suspects arrived, the source said. The Globe is not revealing the name of the source to protect them from unwanted attention in a volatile situation.
The security guard, who was armed with a shotgun, decided he could not fend off the commandos alone. He took cover in a vehicle as the men burst into the compound, the source said. Because of the vehicle’s tinted windows, the gunmen did not see him.
Using his mobile phone, the guard immediately called his superiors, who alerted the police and Taiwanese diplomats. The guard was able to continue relaying reports from his hidden position as the commandos swarmed around. At 11:40 p.m., they broke into the chancellery and set up shop inside. The building was empty at the time, as services had been shut down that day and staff ordered to work from home.
At 1 a.m., police besieged the building and threw tear gas inside but were unsuccessful in flushing the gunmen out.
The standoff continued overnight and through the next day. The Haitian National Police unit in charge of diplomatic security reviewed plans of the chancellery, the source said. Members of the presidential guard were also involved in the operation.
Under international diplomatic protocol, police also had to secure the permission of the Taiwanese government to enter the building. Haiti is one of the few countries that recognizes the Republic of China in Taiwan rather than the People’s Republic in Beijing.
After Taiwan’s officials gave them the green light, police captured the compound at 3:25 p.m. Thursday and arrested the men without resistance.
The security guard, a Haitian national, was finally able to emerge from the vehicle around this time.
In a statement, the government of Taiwan said it had authorized Haitian police to breach its embassy.
“The embassy welcomes the rapid reaction of the Haitian authorities and continues, as always, to work alongside the Haitian people,” read the statement, which denounced the “cruel and barbaric” slaying of Mr. Moïse as “a major international event that has shocked the whole world.”
A Petion-Ville judge involved in the case, Clément Noël, revealed details of Mr. Solages’s interrogation to Le Nouvelliste newspaper. Mr. Noël said Mr. Solages and the other Haitian-American among the alleged mercenaries, Joseph Vincent, 55, had told investigators that they were with the group as “translators.”
They also said they had planned to “arrest” Mr. Moïse by “serving a warrant from an investigating judge” and not to kill him, the paper quoted Mr. Noël as saying. Mr. Solages told authorities that he “found this job on the internet,” Mr. Noël said. It was not clear which judge exactly Mr. Solages was saying had issued a warrant for Mr. Moïse’s arrest.
Le Nouvelliste said Mr. Solages had indicated that the mercenaries had been in the country for about three months before the attack. Mr. Noël told the paper that the suspected killers had also been found with Mr. Moïse’s chequebook and the server containing his home’s security-camera footage.
In his two LinkedIn profiles and other information posted online, Mr. Solages portrayed himself as a man with a varied career, including as a corporate consultant, security guard, engineer and development executive.
In one bio, he wrote that he was the “chief commander of bodyguards for the Canadian embassy in Haiti.” The Canadian government said instead that he was a “reserve bodyguard.”
His LinkedIn profiles said he had trained at the Florida Security School, which says it offers “tactical combat” courses. The profiles said he was working as a building maintenance engineer for senior citizens’ facilities in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Mr. Solages also served as the board president of a charity called Fwa Sa A Jacmel Avan (“This Time Jacmel First” in Creole). On Twitter, he posted photos of himself and other development workers with school children, and of an electricity project he said he had built in Jacmel.
“Don’t let nobody tell you that you are aiming too high or expecting too much of yourself,” he wrote in his most recent post, in March of 2020, “with both Mars, your ruler, and the Sun about to move to your favor, you should in fact expecting more of yourself then ever before.”
With reports from James Griffiths in Hong Kong, Janice Dickson in Ottawa and Rick Cash in Toronto