Notorious Haitian Gang Leader is Charged in D.C. Federal Court of Kidnapping American Missionaries Last Year

The 400 Mawozo Gang is said to be behind the kidnappings and much more crime in the Haitian capital.

The leader of a notorious Haitian gang has been charged in D.C. Federal court with kidnapping 16 American missionaries last year. Germane “Yonyon” Joly, is accused of his role in the armed kidnapping of a dozen adults and five minors. He also held captive one Canadian missionary who was part of the group. The Miami Herald reports that the kidnapping was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, and 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 prosthelytizing on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince last October. They 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. Ransom was eventually paid, although the amount was not disclosed.

Even though Joly was confined to a Haitian prison during the kidnapping, according to the indictment, he was nonetheless able to direct his group’s operations, including ransom negotiations for the captives’ release. One of the aims for the hostage-taking was to use the Americans as leverage to compel the Haitian government to release Joly from prison, prosecutors argued.

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

The indictment says Joly was in a Haitian prison during the kidnapping but was nonetheless able to direct his group’s operations, including ransom negotiations for the captives’ release. One of the stated goals of the hostage-taking was to get the Haitian government to release Joly from prison, prosecutors said.

Haiti's gangs have grown more powerful since the assassination last year of President Jovenel Moise.  In large portions of the island Caribbean nation, they have become de facto authorities.

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.”

According to Reuters, clashes between the rival Chen Mechan and 400 Mawozo gangs left 148 people dead. 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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