Haitian President Jovenel Moise has been assassinated by killers posing as American drug enforcement officers.
Video emerging of the moments before the attack on his private residence in the hills above the capital show the men entered under the cover of darkness – and with a cover story.
In one clip, a person can be heard shouting in English, and with an American accent, “DEA operation” and “stand down”.
First Lady Martine Moise was critically wounded during the nighttime attack. She is expected to be taken to hospital in Miami.
Mr Moise could not be saved.
Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said in televised remarks after chairing a cabinet meeting that the government had declared a two-week state of emergency as it launched a hunt for the killers.
Authorities in the country, where the majority speak French or Haitian Creole, said the gunmen spoke English and Spanish and appeared to include foreigners.
“My compatriots – remain calm because the situation is under control,” Mr Joseph said.
“This blow has wounded this country, this nation, but it will not go unpunished.”
#UPDATE Haitian President Jovenel Moise was assassinated Wednesday at his home by a commando, interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph announced.
Joseph said he was now in charge of the country. pic.twitter.com/2t3pzY24ht
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) July 7, 2021
The assassination followed a spate of gang violence in Port-au-Prince in recent months fuelled by a growing humanitarian crisis and political unrest.
The disorder has turned many districts of the capital into no-go zones.
In the early morning hours of Wednesday (local time), the streets were largely empty in the Caribbean nation’s capital of Port-au-Prince, but some people ransacked businesses in one area.
Mr Joseph said police have been deployed to the National Palace and the upscale community of Petionville and will be sent to other areas.
Haiti’s economic, political and social woes have deepened recently, with gang violence spiking heavily in the capital of Port-au-Prince, inflation spiraling and food and fuel becoming scarcer at times in a country where 60 per cent of the population makes less than $US2 ($2.70) a day.
These troubles come as Haiti still tries to recover from the devastating 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew that struck in 2016.
Mr Moise, who was 53, had been ruling by decree for more than two years after the country failed to hold elections, which led to Parliament being dissolved.
Opposition leaders have accused him of seeking to increase his power, including approving a decree that limited the powers of a court that audits government contracts and another that created an intelligence agency that answers only to the president.
In recent months, opposition leaders demanded he step down, arguing that his term legally ended in February 2021.
Mr Moise and supporters maintained that his term began when he took office in early 2017, following a chaotic election that forced the appointment of a provisional president to serve during a year-long gap.
Haiti was scheduled to hold general elections later this year.
The Dominican Republic said it was closing the border it shares with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola.
The US Embassy said in a statement it would be closed on Wednesday due to the “ongoing security situation”.
The United States had on June 30 condemned what it described as a systematic violation of human rights, fundamental freedoms and attacks on the press in Haiti, urging the government to counter a proliferation of gangs and violence.