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Haitian gangster charged in missionary kidnappings

BBC News logo BBC News 5/11/2022
Fifteen of the 17 missionaries who were held hostage in Haiti © Christian Aid Ministries via CBS Fifteen of the 17 missionaries who were held hostage in Haiti

A notorious Haitian gangster is due to appear in US court Wednesday for allegedly leading the armed abduction and kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries last year.

Joly Germine, 29, is said to be a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, infamous for holding foreigners for ransom.

Some of the alleged missionary captives seized by the criminal group were held for two months before escaping.

Their ordeal brought international attention to gang abductions in Haiti.

Mr Germine, known as 'Yonyon', is the first defendant to be charged over the kidnappings.

Transferred from a Haitian jail into US federal custody earlier this month, he is being held in the District of Columbia for conspiracy to commit hostage taking. He faces a separate charge for arms smuggling.

His indictment "demonstrates that the United States will not tolerate crime against our citizens, here or abroad," said FBI director Christopher Wray.

Three other alleged gang members were also arrested alongside Mr Germine for arms smuggling, though not for the kidnapping of the group of missionaries from the Christian Aid Ministries in October 2021.

The group comprised of 16 US citizens and one Canadian national. Five children were among the hostages, including an eight-month-old baby.

The missionaries had visited an orphanage in the town of Ganthier, east of the capital, Port-au-Prince, when they were taken on their way home.

According to the Department of Justice, Mr Germine directed their nabbing from a Haitian prison and was "in regular contact" with other 400 Mawozo leaders over ransom negotiations. Part of the reason for the kidnapping was to use the hostages to bargain for Mr Germine's prison release, prosecutors said.

The gang later demanded a ransom of $1m (£809,000) per hostage. It is not clear if any money was paid. Two hostages were freed in November, and another three in early December.

The remaining 12 escaped captivity on or around the night of 16 December, after 61 days of captivity during which they faced constant threats of violence.

According to the group's spokesman, the captives used the stars for navigation to trek through dense bush for hours. They were later flown to Florida on a US Coast Guard flight.

At the time of their daring escape, there had been weeks of negotiations between the gang and Haitian authorities.

Kidnappings for ransom have surged in Haiti over the past two years.

More than 1,200 people, 81 of them foreign nationals, were abducted last year, according to Haiti's Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights.

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