A clearer picture of the group that Haiti accuses of assassinating President Jovenel Moïse emerged on Friday as officials in the Colombian defense ministry identified 13 suspects by name and said all were former members of the Colombian military.
Two had been killed, the officials said, and the other 11 were in custody, and they said some had traveled to Haiti as early as May.
In the past, some former members of the Colombian military, which receives heavy financial support and training from the U.S. military, have acted as hired guns following their service.
Colombians are attractive to those looking for military help because they often have years of experience fighting left-wing guerrillas and narcotraffickers inside their own country — and are often trained by U.S. experts.
Colombian officials condemned the attack and said they were doing everything possible to assist the Haitian government in its search for the truth. On Friday, Colombia’s defense department said that the president had asked several top Colombian intelligence officials to travel to Haiti to assist with the investigation, including the head of the national intelligence office, the head of the police intelligence office, and an officer from the Interpol central office in Colombia.
General Jorge Luis Vargas, the head of the national police, said that Colombian officials were investigating four businesses that they believed had recruited individuals for the operation, and they were using the businesses’ Colombian tax numbers to learn more.
One of the suspects, Francisco Eladio Uribe, was being investigated last year by the country’s special peace court for homicide, according to documents obtained by The New York Times. Mr. Uribe was accused of being involved in a scandal known in Colombia as “false positives,” in which hundreds of members of the military were accused of killing civilians and saying they were combat casualties in a bid to show success in the country’s long civil war.
In an interview with W Radio, a woman who identified herself as Mr. Uribe’s wife said that the two had been married for 18 years and had three children, and that he had left home one day after telling her that he had “a very good job opportunity.” She identified the company that employed him only as “C.T.U.”
She said her husband had been investigated but exonerated in the military scandal.
Colombian officials said that some of the accused left Bogotá as early as May, and flew to Panama before traveling to the Dominican Republic and then to Haiti. Others, the officials said, arrived in the Dominican Republican in early June, and then traveled to Haiti. The two countries share the same Caribbean island, Hispaniola.
General Luis Fernando Navarro said that the accused individuals had left the military between about 2002 and 2018, and that they were involved in “mercenary activities” with “purely economic” motives.
It is not clear whether the individuals recruited for the operation knew the specifics of the task they were being assigned, according to John Marulanda, the head of the association for retired military officials.
The idea that people would sign up for such a risky operation “doesn’t make sense, from a military perspective,” Mr. Marulanda said.
Paul Angelo, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies security issues, said that Colombians had a history of being recruited into criminal tasks because they sometimes had limited options once they left the armed forces.
“Colombia is a country that for far too long had military conscription, which fell on the shoulders of the poorest men in the country,” he said. “When an economic underclass is taught how to fight and how to conduct military operations and little else, those skills don’t transfer readily to the civilian sector except in the private security realm.”
A former officer in Colombia’s army, who asked not to be identified, said that a mercenary who traveled abroad could easily be paid about $2,700 a month, compared with a military salary of about $300 a month — even for soldiers with years of combat experience.
“It’s not just Haiti, it’s Kabul, Mexico, Yemen, Emirates,” he said in a telephone interview, listing where former Colombian soldiers have gone.
Reporting was contributed from Colombia by Sofía Villamil in Cartagena and Edinson Bolaños in Bogotá.
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