WASHINGTON (AP) — The leader of a notorious street gang responsible for kidnapping 17 people linked to an American missionary group in Haiti last year was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit hostage-taking, officials said. tax.
Joly Germine, also known as Yonyon, was a prominent member of the 400 Mawozo gang when he rounded up volunteers from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries in October, according to the indictment. The missionaries, 16 Americans and one Canadian, were kidnapped while returning from a visit to an orphanage in Ganthier, near the capital Port-au-Prince.
Mr. Germine, 29, was extradited to the United States last week after being held by the Haitian National Police. Mr. Germine, who was previously charged with firearms trafficking in a separate case, will appear in US District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday. The charges in the hostage-taking case are related to the kidnappings of the 16 American missionaries, the Justice Department said.
Other gang leaders, including Wilson Joseph, and others directly involved in the kidnapping remain at large.
The missionaries, including five children, were released or managed to escape, mostly unharmed, in late 2021, after being held for several months under the constant threat of violence.
The gang, emboldened by the chaotic aftermath of President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July, had demanded $1 million per hostage in the days after the kidnapping.
Prosecutors said Mr. Germine, who was in a Haitian prison at the time of the kidnapping, “directed and asserted control of the kidnapping operations of 400 Mawozo gang members.”
Mr. Germine oversaw negotiations for the release of the missionaries, who were in the country to help rebuild roads, install water systems and repair homes after an earthquake, Justice Department officials said.
One of the gang’s other goals in kidnapping the missionaries was to secure Germine’s release, prosecutors said.
“This case shows that the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to track down anyone who kidnaps a US citizen abroad,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “We will use the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to hold accountable anyone responsible for undermining the security of Americans anywhere in the world.”
The indictment was also intended to deter other groups from attacking Americans who were “volunteering their services” in Haiti and other poor countries, said District of Columbia US Attorney Matthew M. Graves, whose office is prosecuting the case.
Members of 400 Mawozo are known for their violent clashes with other local gangs, but in this case they did not seriously injure their captives, perhaps because they valued volunteers as bargaining chips.
Two of the hostages were released in November, three more were freed in early December, and the rest escaped about a week later, evading their pursuers by hiding in dense undergrowth and using the stars to guide their route.
After being released, the missionaries offered gang members “forgiveness” if they repented of their sins, according to a statement posted on the aid group’s website.
The ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.
Haiti’s gangs have rampaged largely unchecked since Moïse’s murder, controlling vast sections of the capital, the countryside and major routes, including the main highway leading to Ganthier.
The 400 Mawozo gang, which operates east of the capital, is one of the most dangerous in Haiti. He has been implicated in a number of crimes, including mass seizing cars and buses of Haitians and foreigners. He is also believed to have killed a famous sculptor, according to local news.
His name is an inside joke. Means “400 fools” in Creole.
Some 1,200 people, 81 of them from abroad, were kidnapped last year, according to the Center for Human Rights Analysis and Research, a Port-au-Prince nonprofit group.
Last week, an agricultural official from the Dominican Republic was kidnapped and later released while driving from the capital to the Dominican border town of Jimaní.
Dominican authorities believe that the 400 Mawozo gang was also behind that kidnapping.
At least 20 people were killed in street clashes between 400 Mawozo members and a rival gang, Chen Mechan, in Cité Soleil, one of the most impoverished and violent neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince.