Unidentified gunmen assassinated Haitian President Jovenel Moise in his home Wednesday morning, The Associated Press reported.
Moise’s wife, Martine, was also wounded in the attack, Haitian officials confirmed. Haiti has suffered a surge in gang violence and general unrest in recent months as thousands have fled to temporary shelters due to arson attacks and kidnappings.
While Moise appointed neurosurgeon Ariel Henry to be the prime minister on Monday, his predecessor Claude Joseph has taken control of the country. Joseph had previously served as the acting prime minister until Henry’s appointment, according to CNN. (RELATED: State Department: Don’t Go To Haiti, It’s Too Dangerous)
“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said in a statement from his office. “Democracy and the republic will win.”
“I thought there was an earthquake, there was so much shooting,” one woman who says she heard the attack told The AP. “The president had problems with many people, but this is not how we expected him to die. This is something I wouldn’t wish on any Haitian.”
Moise and the leaders of his opposition had disagreed on when his term ended. He argued his four-year term began when he assumed office in January 2017, following a year of disagreement over the result of the 2015 election. While Haiti appointed an interim president to serve what would have been Moise’s first year in office, opposition leaders argue that he should have stepped down in February, four years after his was technically elected, according to USA Today.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the attack “horrific” and “tragic” in a Wednesday morning interview on MSNBC. The U.S. embassy in Haiti has restricted staff to its compound Wednesday, according to The AP.
“The message to the people of Haiti is this is a tragic tragedy,” Psaki said in another interview on CNN. “It’s a horrific crime, and we’re so sorry for the loss that they are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news. And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed.”