WORLD NEWS

Hundreds of prisoners escape as violence escalates in Haitian capital

Mar 3, 2024, 12:34 PM

Protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 1, 2024. (Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters via CNN Newsource)...

Protesters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 1, 2024. (Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) Hundreds of prisoners have escaped from Haiti’s National Penitentiary in the capital, Port-au-Prince, after fighting broke out on Saturday, according to a law enforcement source.

In a post on X, 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,” according to the statement.

Multiple security sources in Port-au-Prince told CNN that the most recent surge in violence, which began Thursday and has targeted police stations, the international airport and the National Penitentiary, is unprecedented in recent years.

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.

Police officers confront a gang during a protest against Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s government in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on March 1. (Ralph Tedy Erol, Reuters via CNN Newsource)

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 Feb 7.

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

The recent fighting, which broke out Thursday, came as Henry was visiting Kenya to finalize details with Kenyan President William Ruto for the expected deployment of a multinational security support mission to Haiti.

Speaking to CNN, a Haitian law enforcement source said gangs had attacked multiple police stations across the city since Thursday, killing at least four people, and burning some of the stations down.

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 terrorized 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.

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Hundreds of prisoners escape as violence escalates in Haitian capital