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The US Department of Justice has announced charges against seven Haitian gang leaders who have allegedly been involved in the kidnappings of US citizens.

According to the US government, the individuals named in the unsealing of criminal charges have all engaged in “kidnapping-for-ransom schemes that endanger the lives of American citizens and that fuel the violent gangs harming the Haitian people.”

The allegations:
In the first set of criminal charges, the Department of Justice charged Lanmo Sanjou, Jermaine Stephenson, and Vitel’homme Innocent. Two of the three are members of the 400 Mawozo gang, and another is the leader of the Kraze Barye gang. The Justice Department alleges that the three men were involved in the kidnapping of 16 US citizens in Hati during the fall of 2021. The victims, Christian missionaries serving near Port-au-Prince, were held captive for 61 days before escaping. The Department of Justice says the victims included five children (including one who was eight months old at the time of the kidnapping). The Justice Department has offered a $3 million reward for information leading to the capture of the three men.

In the second set of criminal charges, the Justice Department charged four other Haitian gang leaders involved in two kidnapping cases affecting US citizens.

Top officials react:
In a statement, FBI director Christopher Wray said, “the charges unsealed today are a reminder of the FBI’s ability to reach criminal actors overseas when crimes are committed against US citizens. The FBI, with our federal and international partners, will continue to pursue anyone who targets Americans for hostage taking or other violent crimes – wherever they are.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken reacted to the charges saying, “The United States supports the efforts of our Haitian law enforcement partners seeking to enforce rule of law in Haiti and combat transnational organized crime which continues to be a driving factor in worsening the humanitarian and security situation. These actions are part of the United States’ commitment to support the people of Haiti as they bear the brunt of the crisis.”

The charges come amid major battles between Haitian police and gangs plaguing the country. The violence picked up after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise. Recently, gangs have created blockades near major petrol terminals, resulting in widespread fuel, food, and water shortages.

The leader of the G9 Haitian gang, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, recently announced that fuel trucks and workers were allowed to approach the fuel terminal his gang has seized (the Varreux terminal) without any fear for their safety. Cherizier said, “Once again, the drivers and employees of the Varreux terminal can come down without fear. We’ve decided among us … to allow for the gas to be released.”

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier 

Shortly after Cherizier’s announcement, the Haitian government was heavily criticized after a notorious gang leader appeared to be dictating how operations could continue at a facility his group seized. Within 24 hours. Haitian police moved in on the complex and were able to retake control.


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