The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) says a Haitian national has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia for conspiracy to commit hostage taking for his role in the armed kidnapping of 16 US citizens in Haiti in the fall of 2021.
The victims were Christian missionaries serving in Haiti. Most of them were held captive for 61 days before escaping, said the DOJ on Tuesday.
The indictment charges Joly Germine, 29, also known as Yonyon, who is described as a leader of the 400 Mawozo gang.
He is the first defendant to be charged in connection with the missionaries’ kidnapping.
Germine was previously charged with firearms trafficking in a separate case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.
The DOJ said the Haitian government transferred Germine from a Haitian jail into US custody on May 3, 2022 on the basis of an arrest warrant in that matter, and Germine has since been detained in the District of Columbia.
“This case shows that the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to track down anyone who kidnaps a US citizen abroad,” said US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “We will utilize the full reach of our law enforcement authorities to hold accountable anyone responsible for undermining the safety of Americans anywhere in the world.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the indictment “demonstrates that the United States will not tolerate crime against our citizens, here or abroad.
“The FBI will continue to work aggressively with our international partners to keep our citizens safe and bring perpetrators to justice,” he added.
US Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia said the indictment is “a step towards achieving justice for the victims who were volunteering their services in Haiti when they were kidnapped and held for weeks on end.
“Along with our law enforcement partners, we are committed to holding accountable those who carry out acts of violence against Americans abroad to further their own aims,” he said.
The DOJ said the charges are related to the Oct. 16, 2021 kidnapping of 17 Christian missionaries near Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Sixteen of the kidnapping victims were US citizens, including five children, one as young as eight months old, the DOJ said.
According to the indictment, Germine, who was in a Haitian prison at the time of the kidnapping, directed and asserted control of 400 Mawozo gang members’ kidnapping operations, including ransom negotiation for the hostages’ release.
One of the gang’s stated goals in holding the hostages was to secure from the Haitian government Germine’s release from prison, the indictment says.
It says Germine is alleged to have been in regular contact with other 400 Mawozo leaders about the hostages’ kidnapping, captivity and ransom.
Two of the hostages were released on or about Nov. 20, 2021, and three more were released on or about Dec. 5, 2021. The remaining hostages escaped captivity on or about Dec. 16, 2021.