PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The sound of gunfire rang out in the neighborhood where the president of Haiti had been assassinated hours before. Police were hunting suspects — Spanish-speaking commandos in Creole-speaking Haiti — when two Haitian Americans from South Florida, wearing dirty white T-shirts and khaki pants, approached.

They surrendered, then offered a yarn befitting a Netflix series, according to an official who interrogated the pair. One of the men, James Solages, a naturalized American who often jumped between South Florida and Haiti, said he applied on the Internet for a job and landed the position as an interpreter for “foreigners” whose full names, he said, he did not know. For about a month, Solages and the foreigners would frequently meet to grab a plate of food and talk with other team members at the restaurant inside the Royal Oasis Hotel, an upscale lodge about 10 minutes from the president’s home.

They were told, Solages explained, that they were executing an order to arrest the president authorized by a judge. On Wednesday night, as the team encroached on the presidential palace, Solages, 35, called out to the president’s guards, claiming to be from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and ordering them to stand down. But something, the men claimed, had gone terribly wrong.

One of the Colombian commandos involved in the mission came out of the president’s home and informed the Haitian Americans — Solages and Joseph Vincent, 55 — that the president had been killed before the team had arrived.

The twists and turns of the account gave Clément Noël, an investigating judge who debriefed the two Americans, pause. How much was true? How much was not?

In Haiti right now, it is impossible to tell.

“In my opinion, they were withholding information."

“They said they turned themselves in because they did not feel like they had a choice,” said Noël. “They did not have a mission to kill the president. When they realized that things had changed, they brought themselves to the police.”

The mysterious plot that led to the brazen assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse — apparently without significant resistance from his own guards — has taken on the dimensions of an international affair, bringing together Colombian former military commandos traversing the Dominican Republic, the two Haitian Americans from South Florida and triggering a standoff at the Embassy of Taiwan.

The tale emerging is a convoluted one, where truth or lie could be behind any corner, and the cast of self-interested suspects vast. But the armed foreign mercenaries, Florida men, and claims of being misled by enigmatic mission masterminds for the promise of coin was eerily familiar, if of far greater consequence.

In an unrelated mission last year, a murky Florida-based ex-Green Beret lured two other former American military veterans — Luke Denman and Airan Berry — into a bizarre and bungled operation to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro by falsely telling them it had been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Like Solages and Vincent, they ended up in foreign jail. In 2019, another group of five heavily armed American mercenaries were arrested — then mysteriously released — following a murky mission in Haiti that was never fully clarified.

“Now, you’ve got Colombians. You’ve got these Haitian Americans. And a dead president of Haiti,” said Ralph Chevry, a board member of the Haiti Center for Socio Economic Policy in Port-au-Prince, the capital. “Everybody wants answers.”

Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s minister of elections and interparty relations, said the Haitian government had requested and expected the assistance of the FBI in investigating the assassination. He said the Haitian government also submitted a letter to the U.S. Embassy and the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, shortly after the assassination, requesting “troops” to the national police in restoring order in the country and protecting energy infrastructure, airports and ports. He said the country was not seeking a large-scale deployment, as Haitians have witnessed in the past.

“We were talking more to the international community,” he said. “But a small group of U.S. troops would be a tremendous help.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman, a Pentagon spokesman, said “the Haitian government has requested security and investigative assistance, and we remain in regular contact with Haitian officials to discuss how the United States can assist.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington that “in response to the Haitian government’s request for security and investigative assistance, we will be sending senior FBI and DHS officials to Port-au-Prince as soon as possible to assess the situation and how we may be able to assist.”

:The crisis over who is charge in the country deepened. On Friday, members of the country’s non-functioning senate — it lacks a legal quorum due to a lapsed election schedule — voted to make the body’s president, Joseph Lambert, the country’s president. The move appeared designed to bolster the prospects for Ariel Henry, a neurosurgeon, who was appointed prime minister two days before the assassination, and is now backed by a number of political players. It has created a challenge to the assumed rule of interim prime minister Claude Joseph, who some experts say remains the constitutional head of state.

The Taiwanese Embassy in Port-au-Prince said Haitian police, with Taipei’s approval, had entered its grounds and seized 11 suspects who had broken into the compound and were holed up there.

Here’s what to know:

  • Moïse was killed at his home early Wednesday by gunmen whose motivation remains unclear. First lady Martine Moïse was wounded in the attack and is being treated in Florida.
  • Haitian police have killed at least three suspects and arrested at least 17 others. Those arrested include two U.S. citizens.
  • The assassination has led to confusion about who is in charge. Two men claim to be prime minister; one has been recognized by the United Nations.
  • Public health organizations fear that the assassination and the surrounding street violence could fuel insecurity and hamper the rollout of coronavirus vaccines.

Haitian authorities have said that 20 of the 28 assailants have been captured, three have been killed and five remain on the run. Other than the two Haitian Americans, they have identified the men as Colombian nationals. They have yet to provide evidence linking them to the killings. Late Thursday, authorities displayed 17 of them on national television along with a tableau of seized weapons, passports and supplies.

Colombian officials have identified their detained nations as former members of the Colombian army, which has become a prime recruiting ground for paid mercenary and private security firms.

On Friday, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, head of the National Police of Colombia, said that authorities there are investigating four companies that could be responsible for hiring the captured men. He didn’t provide the names of the companies or information on its owners.

Vargas and other Colombian officials said that none of the people arrested in Haiti are active military and that they had retired between 2018 and 2020. On Twitter, the Colombian police shared the flight records of the Colombians, indicating they had been in position for months. Alejandro Rivera García and Duberney Capador Giraldo — two Colombians killed in the aftermath of the assassination — had traveled to Panama from Colombia, and then to the Dominican Republic and on to Haiti in the first half of May. Eleven other Colombian nationals flew to the Dominican Republic on June 4 from Bogotá, Colombia, crossing the border into Haiti on June 6.

Colombian President Iván Duque ordered the heads of the national intelligence and intelligence of the national police to travel to Haiti, with Interpol personnel, to support the investigations.

"We offer all the collaboration to find the truth about the material and intellectual authors of the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse,” he said on Twitter.

A woman who claimed to be the wife of one of the Colombian men detained — Francisco Eladio Uribe — told a local Colombian radio station on Friday that he had been promised $2,700 a month for the mission. He was told, she said, that he would go to the Dominican Republic to wait for an operation, in which, he told her, he believed he would serve as a bodyguard.

“They didn’t say where they were going to take him, just wherever they were needed. It was a good job opportunity,” the woman, who identified herself as Yuli Durango, told W Radio.

Her husband was asked to take two pairs of pants and two black shirts for the trip. She said Duberney Capador, one of the Colombians who was killed during the post-assassination operation, had gotten her husband the job.

She said she realized he had been detained when she saw images from Haitian television of the detained men.

She did not provide details on the name of the company that hired Uribe. But she said her husband shared with her the acronym — “CTU” — when they talked about it.

A company named CTU Security is based in Doral, Fla., and sells police and military equipment and provides “different kinds of security and vigilance services,” according to its website. The company’s president, Antonio Intriago, did not respond to a voice-mail message on his office phone, an email or a text message.

“The most important new fact is that apparently the mercenaries were not supposed to kill the president, but arrest him. Why? And who paid them remains an enigma,” Robert Fatton, a professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia who has written extensively on Haiti, said in an email. “Now whether the mercenaries are lying to the Haitian police is another question.”

Court records show a Joseph G. Vincent with the same birth date provided by Haitian authorities was charged in the United States with passport fraud and grand theft auto in the 1990s. In November 1999, Vincent, then living in Miami, was indicted by federal authorities in Washington, D.C., for knowingly making a false statement on a passport application, swearing that he was born in Indiana, that his first name was Brandon, and providing a false birth date. He pleaded guilty, and a judge sentenced him to two years’ probation, records show.

A person matching Vincent’s full name and his true birth date was also charged in Florida in 1995 with grand theft auto, according to an online database maintained by Broward County clerk of the courts. Vincent, the database shows, was born in Port-au-Prince. The database does not show how the case was resolved, and a public information officer at the Hollywood Police Department, which arrested him, did not respond to an email requesting additional information.

In Haiti — where the opposition claimed Moïse was moving toward authoritarian rule, and the president faced rivalries within his own ranks — even some of Moïse’s closest aides were being hauled in for questioning. They included Dimitri Hérard, head of the General Security Unit of the National Palace (USGPN), which is responsible for security at the president’s private residence. The Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research released a report on Friday saying that Hérard was also the subject of a U.S. law enforcement investigation related to arms trafficking in Haiti.

Faiola reported from Miami and Boburg from Washington. Rachel Pannett in Sydney, Dalton Bennett in Washington, Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince and Ana Vanessa Herrero in Miami contributed to this report.