Hundreds escape jail after violence escalate

PORT AU PRINCE – Hundreds of prisoners escaped from Haiti’s National Penitentiary here, after fighting broke out on Saturday.

According to local reports, armed men  set fire to the surroundings of the prison and continued their progression guided by drones which informed them of the location of  police officers stationed at the prison. 

A video taken by a drone circulated online along with an image of the prison. In the video, a voice could be heard reporting the lack of police presence in the prison yard and informing the gang members that they could move forward.

Several police officers deployed at the penitentiary and prison administration agents attempted to repel the coordinated attacks of the attackers, but despite their efforts, after hours of intense exchanges of gunfire, they had to retreat .

The national penitentiary houses more than 11 000 prisoners, including  18 Colombians accused in the assassination plot against President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, as well as the head of security of the National Palace, Dimitri Hérard and the security coordinator, Jean Laguel Civilian as well as dangerous gang leaders and criminals awaiting trial. 

Among the escapees are former gang leader “Djouma”, “Bout Janjan” the former leader of La Saline, “Chinay” a notorious criminal.

In a post on social media, one of Haiti’s Police Unions pleaded for all officers in the capital with access to cars and weapons to assist police battling to maintain control of the penitentiary, and warned that if the attackers were successful “we are done. No one will be spared in the capital because there will be 3 000 extra bandits now effective.”

The most recent surge in violence, which began Thursday has targeted police stations, the international airport and the National Penitentiary.

On Friday, Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, also known as Barbecue, said he would continue in his effort to try and oust Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

“We ask the Haitian National Police and the military to take responsibility and arrest Ariel Henry. Once again, the population is not our enemy; the armed groups are not your enemy. You arrest Ariel Henry for the country’s liberation,” Cherizier said, adding “With these weapons, we will liberate the country, and these weapons will change the country.”

Cherizier is a former police officer who heads an alliance of gangs. He has faced sanctions from both the United Nations and the United States Department of Treasury.

Public frustration, which had been building against Henry over his inability to curb the unrest, boiled over after he failed to step down last month, citing the escalating violence.

Under a previous agreement, he had committed to hold elections and transfer power by February 7.

Last Wednesday Caribbean leaders said that Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry had agreed to hold general elections no later than August 31, 2025.

The recent fighting, started as Henry was visiting Kenya to finalise details with Kenyan President William Ruto for the expected deployment of a multinational security support mission to Haiti.

Meanwhile, gunfire near the airport on Thursday forced airlines to suspend flights.

The US Embassy in Haiti issued a security alert Friday, warning of gunshots and disruptions to traffic near the domestic and international terminals, as well as surrounding areas including a hotel and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police.

Haiti has been gripped by a wave of unrest and gang violence in recent years.

Warring gangs control much of Port-au-Prince, choking off vital supply lines to the rest of the country. 

Gang members have also terrorised the metropolitan population, forcing over 300 000 people to flee their homes amid waves of indiscriminate killing, kidnapping, arson and rape.

Some 1 100 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in January alone, in what the United Nations called the most violent month in two years. (CMC)

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