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At Least 6 Suspects In Haiti President Killing Confirmed As Former Colombian Military

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Colombia has confirmed that retired members of the country's armed forces are among the suspects who were arrested in the assassination of Haiti's president. Former Colombian soldiers have a long history of working overseas as guns for hire. To tell us more, reporter John Otis joins us from the Colombian capital, Bogota. Hi, John.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. It's good to be here.

SHAPIRO: What more can you tell us about the Colombians who allegedly took part in this killing in Haiti?

OTIS: At a news conference today, Colombian officials confirmed that 13 men detained in Haiti are retired members of the Colombian military, and among them are a retired colonel and a former member of an elite anti-terrorism squad. The officials say they initially flew from Bogota to the Dominican Republic and then later crossed the border into Haiti. But before they departed for Haiti, some of them posted on Facebook photos of themselves at tourist sites in the Dominican Republic, which seems, you know, a bit odd if you're supposed to be part of some secret assassination squad.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Any idea who might have been behind the operation, who was paying the mercenaries?

OTIS: It's all still a big mystery, but Colombia's national police chief today did offer some details. He said the military vets were recruited by four different security companies. Speaking with a Bogota radio station today, the wife of one of these recruited vets said her husband was told that he was going to serve as a bodyguard for wealthy families in different parts of Latin America, and he was to be paid about $2,700 a month. In phone calls, he had told his wife that they were training and doing exercise workouts. And then she didn't hear from him again until she saw him yesterday being paraded before TV cameras as one of the alleged gunmen.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the role of Colombian soldiers - former Colombian soldiers working as mercenaries around the world. Like, where do they usually end up?

OTIS: You know, Colombia's armed forces have been fighting guerrillas and drug traffickers for most of the past 50 years. So because of that, here in Colombia, you have a lot of people who served in the military. They know their way around weapons. And upon retirement, their pensions just aren't that big, so a lot of them use their expertise to get jobs with private security firms. So over the past couple of decades, they've worked as security guards, as helicopter pilots and soldiers in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. But there have also been some cases where they've ended up working for illegal armed groups, like drug cartels here in Colombia and also in Mexico.

SHAPIRO: Is there any reason to believe that Colombians would have wanted to kill the Haitian president?

OTIS: Yeah, I mean, that's the odd thing here. And a lot of analysts think that the Colombians may have been duped, that they were led to believe that they were going to be working as legitimate security guards, and then they somehow got drawn into this assassination plot. In fact, Haiti's ambassador to Colombia today indicated that the detained Colombians probably were pawns in some sort of larger game and that they probably were not the masterminds of this killing. But again, all this is a lot of speculation so far.

SHAPIRO: That's reporter John Otis in Bogota. Thank you.

OTIS: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.