US intercepts Haitian president’s murder suspect
Mario Antonio Palacios, allegedly a member of the mercenary crew that assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise last year, has been arrested by US authorities in Panama while in transit from Jamaica to his home Colombia.
The former Colombian military member was intercepted at the airport in Panama on Monday and put on a plane bound for the US, where he already appeared in a Miami federal court on Tuesday. He reportedly did not enter a plea and is set to appear in court again on January 31.
Palacios was being deported from Jamaica back to Colombia after the Jamaican government ruled a request to turn him over to the Haitian government’s custody did not meet legal requirements for extradition. Rather than being named as a suspect in Moise’s murder, he was instead being fingered for the lesser charge of armed robbery.
The Colombian had admitted to being in the bedroom while Moise was killed, but insisted he was not actually involved in the act of murdering the president, who was shot 12 times and allegedly had an eye gouged out during the assault.
Haitian officials have said that Moise was killed by 28 foreign mercenaries, primarily Colombian ex-military with a few Haitian-Americans, on July 7. The hit squad entered the president’s private home pretending to be a US Drug Enforcement Administration team.
Jamaica had refused to extradite Palacios directly to Haiti, and it’s not clear why he was ultimately taken to the US from Panama when Haiti and the US had both issued Interpol red notices seeking his arrest. It emerged shortly after Moise’s murder in July that almost all the primary suspects in his killing had strong ties to the US, and the Pentagon openly acknowledged that the US military had helped train at least seven of the suspects in the assassination, while several others allegedly had ties to the DEA and FBI.
On Saturday, Haitian PM Ariel Henry survived an assassination attempt of his own in the city of Gonaives. The country’s chief public prosecutor called for a restraining order against the PM in September, claiming his alleged links to the murder of Moise meant he should be prohibited from leaving the country – only to be immediately fired. Henry was named as PM by Moise just a few days before his murder, though it’s not clear if the attempt on Henry’s life over the weekend was in any way related to the killing of the former president.