Haiti's police have killed or apprehended suspected killers of President Jovenel Moise, officials say, and are hunting for masterminds behind the assassination.

Children stand outside a house and next to a car, both burned after a firefight between police and suspected assassins of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2021
Children stand outside a house and next to a car, both burned after a firefight between police and suspected assassins of President Jovenel Moise, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 8, 2021 (Reuters)

An already struggling and chaotic Haiti has stumbled into an uncertain future after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise, followed by a gunfight in which police killed seven suspects, detained six others, including a US citizen, and freed three officers being held hostage.

A hunt was under way on Thursday for eight other gunmen responsible for the pre-dawn raid on Moise's home early on Wednesday in which the president was shot to death and his wife, Martine, critically wounded. 

She was flown to Miami for treatment.

READ MORE: Haiti tense as president’s assassination stokes uncertainty

Haitian-American held

Mathias Pierre, Haiti's elections minister, told The Associated Press that one of the suspects in custody was James Solages, a Haitian-American.

At least 28 people carried out the assassination of Moise, Haitian police said, adding that 26 of them were Colombian and two were Americans of Haitian origin.

"We have arrested 15 Colombians and the two Americans of Haitian origin. Three Colombians have been killed while eight others are on the loose," national police director general Leon Charles said at a news conference.

On Wednesday police said four of the suspects had been killed. Charles did not explain the discrepancy.

He also said the "weapons and materials used by the assailants have been recovered."

Witnesses said two of the suspects were discovered hiding in bushes in Port-au-Prince on Thursday by a crowd, some of whom grabbed the men by their shirts and pants, pushing them and occasionally slapping them.

Police arrived shortly afterward to arrest the men, who were sweating heavily and wearing clothes that seemed to be smeared with mud, an Associated Press journalist at the scene said.

 Officers placed them in the back of a pickup truck and drove away as the crowd ran after them to the nearby police station.

READ MORE: Haiti foils 'attempted coup', dozens arrested

'We're going to burn them'

Once there, some in the crowd chanted: "They killed the president! Give them to us. We're going to burn them!"

One man was overheard saying that it was unacceptable for foreigners to come to Haiti to kill the country’s leader, referring to reports from officials that the perpetrators spoke Spanish or English.

The crowd later set fire to several abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes that they believed belonged to the suspects, who were white men. 

The cars didn’t have license plates, and inside one of them was an empty box of bullets and some water.

At a news conference on Thursday, Charles, the police chief, asked people to stay calm, go home and let police do their work as he warned that authorities needed evidence they were destroying, including the burned cars.

Officials did not provide any details about the suspects, including their nationalities, nor did they address a motive or say what led police to them. 

They said only that the attack condemned by Haiti’s main opposition parties and the international community was carried out by "a highly trained and heavily armed group."

Two-week state of siege

Prime Minister Claude Joseph assumed leadership of Haiti with the backing of police and the military and on Thursday asked people to reopen businesses and go back to work as he ordered the reopening of the international airport.

On Wednesday, Joseph decreed a two-week state of siege following Moise's killing, which stunned a nation grappling with some of the Western Hemisphere's highest poverty, violence and political instability.

A presidential vote as well as a constitutional referendum that had been slated for September 26 before the assassination this week of President Jovenel Moise would go ahead as planned, Elections Minister Pierre said. 

READ MORE: Haiti President Moise assassinated at home, interim PM takes over

Source: TRTWorld and agencies