Diaspora

Feds file new charges against 7 Haitian gang leaders accused of kidnapping Americans – AOL

U.S. authorities expanded their crackdown on Haitian gang leaders Monday, charging seven of them with armed kidnapping, including three suspects wanted in the abductions of 16 U.S. citizens who were members of a Christian missionary group taken as hostages in the fall of 2021.
The new federal indictments, returned by the grand jury in Washington, D.C., charged Wilson Joseph, known as Lanmò Sanjou, 29, Jermaine Stephenson, who is known as Gaspiyay, also in his late 20s, and Vitel’homme Innocent, 36. The indictments say they had leading roles in the kidnappings of the missionaries serving near Port-au-Prince, and the U.S. is offering a $3 million reward for information leading to their arrests.
The three suspects collaborated with other gang members and demanded $1 million in ransom per victim and threatened to kill the missionaries, who worked for the Ohio-based Christian Aid Missionaries, if the ransom was not paid, U.S. authorities said. An undisclosed ransom was eventually paid. Most of the missionaries, including five children and a Canadian citizen, were held hostage for 61 days before escaping.
“When a U.S. citizen is kidnapped abroad, the Justice Department will bring to bear the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to ensure their safe return home and to hold accountable those responsible,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.
The indictments against the Haitian gang leaders come a year after the missionaries’ kidnappings made global headlines, and as gangs continue to fuel chaos and despair in Haiti, where a two-month blockade of the country’s main fuel terminal and seaports have left millions of children unable to go to school and millions of Haitians without access to fuel, food and drinking water.
The developing crackdown and reward, along with Friday’s announcement of sanctions against two high-profile Haitian politicians, reflects the increasing attention the Biden administration has been paying lately to addressing Haiti’s lawlessness.
In and out of Port-au-Prince, where the indicted gang leaders operate, Haitians are being kidnapped, killed and raped by armed groups that, according to the United Nations, are systematically using rape as a weapon of control and terror.
According to the U.N. political office in Haiti, the country has registered 877 abductions, including 182 women, 13 girls and 15 boys, during the first seven months of this year in the municipalities of Delmas, Port-au-Prince, Cité Soleil, Croix-des-Bouquets and Tabarre. Croix-des-Bouquets is the gang stronghold for 400 Mawozo, the group led by Sanjou and Stephenson, while Innocent operates his own gang in Tabarre and in the surrounding communities of Trocelle and Pernier.
Once allies, the two gangs are currently in a violent clash for territory as Innocent expands his gang’s base into communities that did not previously have armed groups.
The tightening grip of gangs in Haiti prompted the U.S. government to circulate two resolutions at the U.N. Security Council last month. The Security Council has acted only on a resolution to sanction gang leaders and those who support them. A second resolution supporting the rapid deployment of foreign troops to assist the Haitian police is currently on hold.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, another gang leader, Jimmy Cherizier, who goes by the name Barbecue, declared a fuel blockade over, but as of Monday employees still could not get into the Varreux terminal because of fresh gang clashes. Armed groups have also moved further north of the capital to occupy areas near another private port, as well as flour and cement mills.
In the latest charges, federal authorities identified Sanjou and Stephenson as leaders of the 400 Mawozo gang, and Innocent as the head of the Kraze Barye (Destroy the Barrier) gang. According to the indictments, all three defendants conspired in the missionaries’ abductions led by the 400 Mawozo gang. In announcing the new charges, the U.S. Department of State offered a reward of $1 million for each of the three defendants for information leading to their capture.
Monday’s new charges by the Justice Department followed the high-profile indictment of another Mawozo gang leader, Germine Joly, 29. He was transferred to the United States last May.
Joly, aka “Yonyon,” was in a Haitian prison at the time of the missionaries’ kidnappings but was accused of directing the gang from behind bars, including ransom negotiations for the hostages’ release. Also charged with Joly was fellow Mawozo gang member Jean Pelice, 27. Both have pleaded not guilty.
In addition, federal authorities announced Monday that four other Haitians who lead three other gangs were charged with the kidnappings of two other U.S. citizens in Haiti last year.
The four defendants, all believed to be in Haiti, are: Renel Destina, 40, known as Ti Lapli, who controls the Gran Ravine area; Emanuel Solomon, known as Manno, one of two leaders of the Village de Dieu gang; and John Peter Fleronvil and Jean Renald Dolcin, leaders of the Kokorat san Ras.
Fleronvil and other Kokorat san Ras gang members were arrested in September by the Haiti National Police. Destina, Solomon and Dolcin are still at large.
For months Haitian police have ramped up their efforts to go after gangs and their leaders, arresting several in the process and killing others. However, kidnappings and violence have continued.
Innocent, for example, was among the gang leaders contacted by former Haiti Sen. John Joël Joseph when he was looking to arm former Colombian soldiers later implicated in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse on July 7, 2021. Since then, Innocent has grown increasingly powerful.
The kidnapping investigations have been led by the FBI field office in Miami with assistance from the State Department’s Diplomatic Service and the Haiti National Police.

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