US indicts Haitian gang leader over missionaries’ kidnapping

US authorities say Joly Germine is a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang accused of kidnapping 17 missionaries in Haiti last year.

Haitians protest against gang violence in Port-au-Prince in 2020
Gang violence has been a widespread problem in Haiti for years, but it escalated following President Jovenel Moise's killing last year [File: Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP]

The grand jury in the United States has indicted a Haitian gang leader for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of a group of Christian missionaries in Haiti last year, the US Justice Department announced.

In a statement on Tuesday, the department said 29-year-old Joly Germine, also known as “Yonyon”, was indicted for “conspiracy to commit hostage taking” over the kidnapping of 17 missionaries near the capital, Port-au-Prince, in October 2021.

Germine is described as a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, which Haitian authorities said was responsible for the abduction.

“This case shows that the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to track down anyone who kidnaps a U.S. citizen abroad,” US Attorney General Merrick Garland said in Tuesday’s statement.

“We will utilize the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to hold accountable anyone responsible for undermining the safety of Americans anywhere in the world.”

The missionaries – 16 US citizens and one Canadian – were taken on October 16 while returning from an orphanage east of Port-au-Prince.

The group included five children, including an eight-month-old infant, and their Haitian driver also was abducted, according to a local human rights organisation.

They had travelled to the Caribbean nation on a trip organised by Christian Aid Ministries, a church group based in the US state of Ohio.

Five of the abductees were released in November and December, and on December 16, the remaining 12 missionaries were set free in what Christian Aid Ministries described as a “miraculous” escape.

Haiti has experienced a surge in gang-related violence over the past year, with armed groups battling for control of areas in and around the capital.

The problem worsened after the July 2021 killing of President Jovenel Moise, which plunged the country into an even deeper political and social crisis.

Last week, the United Nations warned that escalating violence had killed dozens of people in Port-au-Prince, while thousands of residents had been forced to flee their homes.

The US Justice Department said Germine was in a Haitian prison when the kidnapping took place last October, but he “directed and asserted control of 400 Mawozo gang members’ kidnapping operations, including ransom negotiation for the hostages’ release”.

“One of the gang’s stated goals in holding the hostages was to secure from the Haitian government Germine’s release from prison. Germine is alleged to have been in regular contact with other 400 Mawozo leaders about the hostages’ kidnapping, captivity, and ransom,” the department said.

Germine, who was transferred to the US from a Haitian prison on May 3, will have his first US court appearance on Wednesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies