In the biggest coup so far for the US occupation force here, American troops on Sunday night detained Romeo Halloum, officially known as General Cedras's chief of security, but widely believed to control the so- called 'attaches' or para- military thugs who have long ruled the streets. The shadowy Mr Halloum, aged around 38, is an American citizen and he claims to have served in Vietnam.
The Americans also detained his three brothers, and a fifth man who formed the 'Ninjas' in one of a series of raids aimed at netting armed opponents of the exiled President, Jean- Bertrand Aristide.
The five, thought to have been moved to US Navy vessels off-shore, are all of Syrian or Lebanese origin, part of a core of Arab families who control a large chunk of big business in Haiti, thought to include arms and drugs smuggling.
Mr Halloum was believed to have had control of Port- au-Prince airport, allowing him to smuggle in goods and break the UN embargo.
General Hugh Shelton, commander of US forces on the island, yesterday described Mr Halloum and the other detainees - thought to be Ramses Halloum, Jerry and Patrick Mourra and Alex Fonbrun - as 'thugs'. He said that one of them had been involved in an incident last week, in which a grenade was thrown at Aristide supporters, killing seven people and wounding 60.
Commenting on the fact that Mr Halloum, and perhaps one or two of the others, is an American citizen, General Shelton said: 'They will be handed over to the legitimate government of Haiti (that of President Aristide when he returns) but our justice will get the first shot at them.'
Mr Halloum is the son of a well-known Haitian-American of Lebanese origin, who was a captain in the US army. He was raised in Miami and surfaced publicly about a year ago as General Cedras's chief of security and bodyguard.
As the US stepped up talk of an invasion a few months ago, the so-called Ninjas began appearing with General Cedras in public, dressed in black uniforms and black hoods. Reporters who knew him recognised Mr Halloum's hazel-green eyes. He was fond of threatening journalists.
When a United Nations convoy was stopped by 30 attaches at a roadblock two months ago and robbed it of its walkie talkies and other equipment, UN staffers recognised Mr Halloum as the leader.