Armed gangs attack main prison in Haiti, releasing inmates

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Armed gangs attacked Haiti’s National Penitentiary on Saturday, allowing several notorious gang leaders and other prisoners to escape the vastly overcrowded facility, a high-level police source confirmed.

The prison houses some of the country’s highest-profile inmates — including indicted suspects in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

The break occurred after gangs had besieged the Port-au-Prince prison for days.

The siege unfolded while Prime Minister Ariel Henry was visiting Kenya. He is in the East African nation to finalize an agreement for the deployment of a United Nations-backed Multinational Security Support mission to help the Haiti National Police combat gang violence that has destabilized the country.

In his absence, terrorizing gangs launched an attack on the capital that led to the deaths of at least five police officers when they overtook a police station, and the cancellation of international flights. After shots were fired near the domestic and international airports on Thursday, both U.S.-based carriers, American Airlines and Spirit Airlines, canceled flights from South Florida while Haiti-based Sunrise Airways also canceled flights after bullets struck several of its airplanes. International flights resumed Friday.

As gangs continued their attack on Friday, however, the U.S. embassy issued a security alert to warn U.S. citizens that multiple locations in the capital were under heavy gunfire from violent gangs and that civilians should take precautions.

The attacks mark an escalation of already dangerous levels of violence in Haiti, where over 314,000 people have been forced from their homes and the toll is expected to rise with the latest wave of unrest.

READ MORE: Gang attacks at Haiti airport damage jetliners; airlines cancel flights from South Florida

The National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince is Haiti’s most overcrowded prison. It was designed for 1,300 inmates, but had 3,696 prisoners before the prison break. They included 17 Colombians accused in the assassination plot against Moïse, as well as the late president’s palace security chief, Dimitri Hérard, and security coordinator, Jean Laguel Civil. All were recently indicted by a Haitian investigative judge in the killing. Multiple sources said that the Colombians did not leave the prison.

Gangs using drones

Earlier Saturday, a video circulated online with an image of the prison from a drone reportedly being operated by the leader of the Baz 5 Segon gang, Izo. A voice could be heard monitoring the penitentiary and reporting on the lack of police presence in the prison yard and informing gang members they could progress. In another recording, an unidentified voice could be heard confirming the prison break.

Izo also shared a drone video on TikTok from on top of an office building in the palace yard. Specialized police officers from the National Palace’s security unit could be seen lying flat on the roof as a voice mocked them and said “keep shooting at them.”

A Haiti National Police spokesman did not respond to a Miami Herald request for comment, and the high-level police source did not provide additional details.

In separate social media posts on X, formerly Twitter, two Haitian police unions launched a SOS, asking for police officers to unite to protect the prisons and strategic intersections, such as the road leading to the international airport.

Gang members, who now appear to be more coordinated and united than ever, had been trying for months to breach the country’s main prison. Unsuccessful attempts on both the prison and National Palace were reported on Friday as automatic gunfire rang out across the capital and armed gangs continued to target police officers and government facilities.

Earlier in the week, former policeman-turned-gang member Jimmy Chérizier, aka Barbecue, took credit for the latest wave of violence, saying in a video shared online that the goal is to “topple” Henry and his government.