WASHINGTON - At least seven Colombian nationals who were arrested by Haitian authorities in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise received U.S. military or police training.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation, told VOA Friday that all seven had been members of the Colombian military at the time they received the training.
“Individuals had been approved for a variety of training activities held both in Colombia and the United States between 2001-2015," the official said. "Examples of the types of training received were various types of military leadership and professional development training, emergency medical training, helicopter maintenance, and attendance at seminars on counternarcotics and counterterrorism.”
BREAKING: US gvt official tells @VOANews that 7 of 25 individuals alleged to have been involved in the assassination of #Haiti's President #Moise "previously participated in past US military training & education programs, while previously serving in the #Colombia|n military"— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) July 16, 2021
The official said both the State Department and the Department of Defense are continuing to review their records to see if any additional suspects in the assassination have ties to the U.S.
“Their alleged involvement in this incident stands in stark contrast to outstanding conduct and performance of hundreds of thousands of foreign military students that have benefitted from U.S. education training programs over the past 40 years,” the official said.
Word that a “small number” of the Colombian nationals in Haitian custody had gotten U.S. training first came Thursday, though a Pentagon spokesperson told VOA that any such training “emphasizes and promotes respect for human rights, compliance with the rule of law, and militaries subordinate to democratically elected civilian leadership.”
Moise was shot and killed in the predawn hours of July 7 at his private residence in a wealthy suburb of Port-au-Prince. His wife, Martine, was injured in the attack and is recovering from surgery at a Miami, Florida, hospital.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph told reporters that he has spoken to the first lady several times and that she is doing well.
Haitian National Police Chief Leon Charles said 18 Colombians have been arrested in connection with the assassination.
Colombia’s president told a local radio station Thursday that most of the detained Colombians had been duped into thinking they were to provide bodyguard services for the Haitian leader.
“Once they were over there,” Ivan Duque said, “the information they were given changed,” and the men ended up as suspects in an assassination plot.
New investigation details
Police Chief Charles said five Haitian police officers are currently in isolation because of their alleged involvement in the assassination plot. Investigators are questioning all police officers who were on duty when the attack occurred, he said.
"We have 18 assailants under detention. Three were killed during the attack, and there are five Haitian Americans who we are taking a close look at," the chief told reporters during a Friday press conference.
"We are working both internally and externally with the assistance of our international partners to move the investigation forward. There are Interpol and FBI agents here on the ground to help us analyze evidence that will help us trace and identify the masterminds," Charles said.
The chief thanked civilians who had been helping law enforcement find those involved in the assassination. Police have received a lot of helpful tips every day so far, he said.
Matiado Vilme in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this story.