The U.S. State Department has announced rewards of US$1 million dollars for information which will lead to the arrest of the leadership of Haiti’s 400 Mawozo gang which last year kidnapped several U.S. citizens for ransom.
“As part of our efforts to continue imposing consequences and holding accountable those fomenting violence in Haiti, I am announcing reward offers of up to $1 million each for information leading to the arrests and/or convictions of three Haitian nationals,” U.S. Secretary of state Anthony Blinken said in a statement Monday.
The three are Joseph Wilson, who goes under the alias Lanmò Sanjou, Jermaine Stephenson, also known as Gaspiyay, and Vitel‘Homme Innocent.
The move comes in response to the gang’s targeting of American citizens.
“On October 16, 2021, the 400 Mawozo gang engaged in a conspiracy to kidnap 16 U.S. Christian missionaries and one Canadian missionary and hold them for ransom,” Blinken’s statement explained. “The missionaries were abducted after visiting an orphanage in the town of Ganthier, east of Port-au-Prince. The kidnapping victims of the missionary group included twelve adults and five children.”
Founded in 2016, according to Insight Crime, the 400 Mawozo, is currently the largest criminal group on the carribean island and kidnapping is one of its main sources of income.
Since about 2020, the 400 Mawoo gang has sent small groups of men on motorcycles after victims who would then be released after a small ransom is paid. The kidnapping model is based on scale and not high ransoms, according to Insight Crime.
The gang is also involved in extortion, hijacking, trafficking and smuggling across the Dominican border and as it grows more powerful, its political influence is becoming a concern.
“There are 400 Mawozo wearing suits and ties,” an unnamed Hatian government official said according to Insight Crime.
Currently, the group’s territory includes the only route connecting the capital of Port Au Prince to the north of the country. This means that if they wanted, they could pose a serious threat to government authority if they decide to block the travel of goods and people.
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