Haitian Gang Leader Accused of Masterminding Kidnap of 17 Missionaries

16 Americans and a Canadian were proselytizing outside Port-au-Prince when they were kidnapped and ransomed for $1 million per person.

Notorious Haitian gang leader, Germane “Yonyon” Joly, has been charged in D.C. Federal court with kidnapping 17 missionaries on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince in October 2021. Joly is accused of playing a leading role in the armed kidnapping of the dozen adults and five minors. All but one Canadian missionary who was part of the group were U.S. citizens. The Miami Herald reports that the kidnapping was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang. Joly is the first person the Justice Department has charged in connection with the crime.

The Christian missionaries, who worked for Ohio-based Christian Aid Missionaries, were held captive for two months by the 400 Mawozo. The gang’s second in command demanded $1 million in ransom per victim and threatened to kill the missionaries if the ransom was not paid. An undisclosed amount was paid to ransom the captives.

Despite Joly being imprisoned in Haiti at the time of the kidnapping, the indictment states, he was able to mastermind the group’s operations, including ransom negotiations. One of the aims for the kidnapping was to negotiate Joly’s release from prison by exchanging his freedom for the hostages, according to prosecutors.

Joly was extradited to the U.S. last week where he faces separate firearm trafficking charges here in D.C., prosecutors said. He is detained and is scheduled to return to court next week for an arraignment.

The Associated Press reports that Federal Bureau of Investigations Director Christopher Wray told reporters, “Today’s indictment demonstrates that the United States will not tolerate crime against our citizens, here or abroad.” The agency, Wray continued, “will continue to work aggressively with our international partners to keep our citizens safe and bring perpetrators to justice.”

Haiti’s gangs have gotten more powerful since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise last summer. In much of the island Caribbean nation, the gangs have become de facto authorities.
Reuters reports that clashes between the rival Chen Mechan and 400 Mawozo gangs left 148 people dead in just the past two weeks. The gangs are accused of raping women and girls and burning people alive during turf wars near the capital of Port-au-Prince.  The National Human Rights Defense Network, a Haitian rights group, reported that people were hacked to death with machetes or died when their homes were set ablaze. Escalating armed gang violence has forced the closure of almost 1,700 schools throughout the metropolitan Port-au-Prince area, according to UNICEF.

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