Police stand near a mural featuring Haitian President Jovenel Moise, near the leader’s residence where he was killed by gunmen…
Police stand near a mural featuring Haitian President Jovenel Moise, near the leader’s residence where he was killed by gunmen in the early morning hours in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2021.

WASHINGTON / PORT-AU-PRINCE - Haitian police arrested “the presumed assassins” of Haiti President Jovenel Moise, a government official announced on social media late Wednesday.

"Alleged assassins of [Moise] intercepted by the National Police in Pelerin shortly before 6 p.m. tonight," Communications Secretary Frantz Exantus tweeted, according to media reports.

Exantus provided no other details, such as how many suspects had been arrested. He said additional details would be released soon.

A manhunt ensued after the shooting death of Moise at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of the capital, Port-au-Prince, before dawn on Wednesday

"Those killers are on the loose," Haitian Ambassador to the United States Bocchit Edmond said Wednesday during a briefing with reporters covering the State Department. "We are calling for an international manhunt."

Edmond said Haiti would request U.S. assistance and expertise. "A stable Haiti is in the interest of the United States," he said.

Haiti's border with the Dominican Republic and its airports are closed, the ambassador said. Edmond said officials suspected the attackers were either still in Haiti or had escaped over the border. He ruled out the possibility of an escape via air, saying it would have been virtually impossible to evade the country's air surveillance system.

Members of the Haitian police and forensics look for evidence outside of the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2021.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph declared a state of siege and said he was now in charge of the country.

Asked by VOA whether officials know the nationality of the gunmen, Edmond said he was unsure, but based on video footage obtained by the national police and deemed credible, the assassins, whom he described as "mercenaries," posed as agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

"They are speaking Spanish and presented themselves as DEA agents. As we well know, this is not the way the DEA operates. I believe they are fake DEA agents. Experts who saw the video said those are professional killers," Edmond told reporters.

An emergency vehicle is parked at the entrance of Ryder Trauma Center where Haitian first lady Martine Moise was taken for treatment in Miami, July 7, 2021.

First lady Martine Moise, who was shot during the attack, was in stable but critical condition, the ambassador said. She has been transferred to a hospital in Miami, Florida, for treatment. One of the president's children who was at home during the attack has been taken to a secure location.

White House reaction

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the assassination and expressed condolences in a statement issued by the White House.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to reporters as he departs the White House in Washington, July 7, 2021.

"We condemn this heinous act, and I am sending my sincere wishes for First Lady Moïse's recovery. The United States offers condolences to the people of Haiti, and we stand ready to assist as we continue to work for a safe and secure Haiti." 

Biden called the attack "worrisome." "We need a lot more information," he said in response to a reporter's question before boarding Marine One en route to Joint Base Andrews Wednesday morning.

World bodies react

In Washington, the permanent council of the Organization of American States held a virtual emergency meeting to discuss the Moise assassination Wednesday afternoon. Member states condemned the killing and expressed condolences and solidarity with the Haitian people.

FILE - Haiti's President Jovenel Moise speaks during an interview in his office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Aug. 28, 2019.

U.S. Ambassador Brad Freden said that he was shocked by the news and that the United States was concerned about Haiti's security and political stability. He called on all political actors to set aside their differences and work for the common good of the Haitian people.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council president, French Ambassador Nicolas de Riviere, said the council was deeply shocked by the assassination.  

The council will meet privately Thursday morning to discuss developments.

"This is a critical moment. I think we all knew it was sensitive and difficult on the ground in Haiti," Ireland's ambassador, Geraldine Byrne Nason, told reporters. She said the council would discuss how it could support the people of Haiti.

"I think this is a dark hour for them, and we certainly want to be sure we can express our support for the people of Haiti," she said.

The United Nations has about 1,200 staff in Haiti as part of its political mission there.

US lawmakers react

On Capitol Hill, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, New York Democrat Gregory Meeks, extended condolences to the Moise family and the Haitian people. He also expressed his concerns about violence.

"The spiral of violence and political assassinations are a threat to democracy in Haiti. My thoughts go out to the Haitian people as we all hope for a return to peace and stability," Meeks said in a statement. "I will do everything I can to support a thorough investigation to ensure that those involved are held accountable."

Members of the Haitian police and forensics look for evidence outside of the presidential residence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 7, 2021.

The committee's top Republican, Michael McCaul of Texas, also released a statement condemning the killing and calling for a probe.  

"I strongly condemn the assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse and hope his wife who was injured in the attack recovers quickly. There must be a full investigation and appropriate accountability for his murder. My condolences to the Moïse family and people of Haiti."

Recent uptick in violence  

Haiti has been experiencing political instability and division, as well as a rise in gang violence.  

Last week in Port-au-Prince, gang leader Jimmy Cherisier, who is known by the nickname Barbecue, took to the streets to protest Moise's government, calling on him to resign.

"Jovenel (Moise) must go!" Cherisier told reporters during the protest. "A new group of people needs to lead this country, and we must sit together around a table, have a national dialogue so we can redefine this country."

Seeking to reassure the nation, the Prime Minister Joseph has appealed for tranquility.

"Stay calm. The nation is secure. Let's look for harmony," he said.

Ambassador Edmond reiterated that message during his briefing with reporters.

"Violence is not the answer. There is no future in that," he said. 

VOA's Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer, Capitol Hill correspondent Katherine Gypson, and White House correspondent Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report, which includes some information from The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.