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FBI arrests main suspect in Haiti president assassination

U.S. authorities have taken into custody a primary suspect in the assassination of the Haitian president. Mario Antonio Palacios is a Colombian national who fled to Jamaica and had evaded arrest for months.

Palacios, 43, was recently deported from Jamaica and, during a layover in Panama, agreed to travel to the United States, according to prosecutors for the U.S. District Court for the South District of Florida. He was taken into custody and was scheduled to appear in federal court in Miami. 

According to the federal criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Palacios and others entered the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on July 7, 2021, in a plot to kill President Jovenel Moise. Moise was shot 12 times and died as a result, according to an autopsy and local authorities. First lady Martine Moise also suffered multiple gunshots but survived and was treated in Miami. 

Mario Antonio Palacios, who was arrested and charged in connection with the plot to assassinate Haitian President Jovenel Moise, appears in court in Miami, Jan. 4, 2022, in this courtroom sketch.

Mario Antonio Palacios, who was arrested and charged in connection with the plot to assassinate Haitian President Jovenel Moise, appears in court in Miami, Jan. 4, 2022, in this courtroom sketch.
(Daniel Pontet/Handout via REUTERS)

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Palacios was among a group of about 20 Colombian citizens with “military training” recruited for the plan developed by Haiti-based dual Haitian-American citizens to “extract” the president. 

They arrived in Haiti in June and trained for weeks, with the help of an unnamed co-conspirator who oversaw providing them with equipment and other support, photos and text messages seized from electronic devices as part of the FBI’s investigation showed. 

Some photos showed them in matching clothing, while others had Palacios and the rest of the Colombians outfitted in ballistic vests. Their initial plot to kidnap the president was abandoned weeks in when they failed to secure a private plane, the criminal complaint says. 

The co-conspirator, a dual Haitian-American citizen, traveled to the U.S. on June 28, 2021, to, among other things, provide others with a written request for assistance to further the plot relating to the Haitian president. At that point, other co-conspirators understood the plot had shifted from kidnapping to assassinating Moise. He then flew back from Florida on July 1 to participate in the operation. 

The conspirator was subsequently arrested by Haitian authorities and remains in custody in Haiti.

U.S. law enforcement interviewed Palacios in October 2021 and he allegedly told investigators the initial plan was to “capture” Moise at the airport while donning black hoodies and take him away by plane. But he was informed on July 6, a day before storming the palace, that the new plan was to kill the president.  

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Palacios is charged with conspiracy to commit murder or kidnapping outside the U.S. and providing material support resulting in death, knowing or intending that such material support would be used to prepare for or carry out the conspiracy to kill or kidnap, according to the criminal complaint.

He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted, prosecutors said. The FBI is investigating the case with other law enforcement partners, including Homeland Security Investigations.

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