MIAMI (HPD) — The Justice Department announced Monday that it has filed criminal charges against seven Haitian gang leaders in US federal courts. In a statement, the United States said it was also offering rewards of up to $3 million for information helping to locate some of those involved in the armed kidnapping of a group of American missionaries in October 2021.
Three of the gang leaders face charges in Washington federal court for conspiracy to kidnap and for involvement in the kidnapping of 16 American Christian missionaries. Most of them were held captive for 61 days in Haiti in 2021 before escaping, although five of them were released a few days earlier, between November and December. There were five children in the group, one just eight months old, the Justice Department said in a press release.
The US decision to appear in criminal charges comes at a time when Haiti is facing gang violence.
According to a recent United Nations report, the gangs control about 60% of the capital Port-au-Prince. Rapes of women and children, burning of houses and other violent acts aimed at controlling the territory after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 are attributed to them.
The Haitian government asked foreign forces for help in October, after one of the most powerful criminal groups surrounded a fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince in September, forcing the closure of gas stations and businesses.
The international community has sent armored vehicles and equipment to reinforce the national police.
The State Department is offering one million dollars each for Lanmo Sanjou -known as Joseph Wilson- 29 years old, for Jermaine Stephenson -alias Gaspiyay- over 20 years old, and Vitel’homme Innocent, 36 years old. The first two are attributed the leadership of the 400 Mawozo gang, considered responsible for the kidnapping of the missionaries, and the third, that of the Kraze Barye gang.
Innocent, according to the criminal charges filed, also collaborated in the hostage taking.
Four other Haitians who were leaders of other gangs face charges of kidnapping US citizens in Haiti, the Justice Department said.