Mireille Durocher, a fervent supporter of the previous military regime here who had often called President Jean-Bertrand Aristide "crazy," was shot to death Tuesday as she sat in a traffic jam.
The killing of the 38-year-old U.S.-educated lawyer was the first attack on a major anti-Aristide figure since U.S. troops arrived here in September to end Haiti's brutal military regime and restore the president to power.
Although no one claimed responsibility, U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager immediately said her death "was clearly a political killing." He later acknowledged that he had no evidence for his assertion.
U.S. officials in Washington condemned the killing and said Tuesday that an FBI team will be sent to Haiti to help investigate it.
Late Tuesday, Aristide issued a statement that "condemns this act of lawlessness," and he pledged to "make every effort to bring to justice those responsible."
Jean Chevanne Baptiste, a radical leftist leader, said the killing "could have been a provocation and conspiracy" by anti-Aristide forces to discredit the president just three days before President Clinton arrives here to turn international responsibility for Haiti over to the United Nations.
According to international police monitors and Haitian radio reports, Durocher was driving about 2 p.m. on a major but narrow street in the capital. At her side was Junior Baillerjeaux, identified as a client of her lawyer husband, Jean Bertin.
When her vehicle was stopped in traffic, police said, a car with a red ribbon dangling from the rearview mirror passed and its passengers opened fire with a submachine gun, first shooting the tires, then the riders. Red ribbons here designate cars as taxis.
Police said Durocher and her passenger died immediately.
Her husband said she had received death threats since Aristide returned in October and feared that she would be the subject of revenge by anti-military forces.
Durocher had been both family lawyer and friend to Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the leader of the 1991 coup that overthrew Aristide. In 1994, military leaders created a puppet civilian government headed by Emile Jonassaint with Durocher as his chief of staff.
She became well known in the United States for her frequent, outspoken appearances in U.S. media attacking Aristide and defending Cedras, who is now in exile. The mother of three was a vocal defender of the coup and a major behind-the-scenes figure in developing opposition to Aristide's return.
Since the military was driven out last fall, Durocher had bitterly denounced the U.S. intervention here as an invasion and occupation and charged Aristide with trying to establish a dictatorship. In interviews, she often called Aristide "crazy" and predicted he would carry out "a blood bath" against his opponents.
She had also acted as a lawyer for several former army officers and pro-military civilians who were arrested after Aristide returned. Just a week ago, she announced the formation of a new political party, the Movement to Integrate the Nation, to take part in June legislative elections and presidential voting in December.
Haiti has been in the midst of a increasing crime wave, including what may have been politically motivated attacks--although most previous victims were Aristide supporters.