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Gangs Attempt to Take Over Primary Airport in Haiti, Marking Latest Attack on Government Facilities

Gangs In Haiti Try To Seize Control Of Main Airport In Newest Attack On Government Sites

Heavily armed gangs made a brazen attempt to seize control of Haiti’s primary international airport on Monday, engaging in a fierce firefight with police and soldiers in the latest assault on crucial government installations amidst a surge of violence that has seen a mass jailbreak from the nation’s two largest prisons.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport was effectively shut down during the attack, with no flights operating and no passengers present.

Reporters from the Associated Press witnessed an armored vehicle on the tarmac engaging gangs in gunfire, striving to prevent their entry onto airport premises as numerous employees and bystanders scrambled for cover from the hail of bullets.

The outcome of the attack, which stands as the most significant assault on Haiti’s airport in its history, remained uncertain as of late Monday.

Only a week prior, the airport had come under brief gunfire amidst ongoing gang assaults, yet they had not breached the airport nor wrested control of it.

Gangs Attempt to Take Over Primary Airport in Haiti, Marking Latest Attack on Government Facilities

Gangs Attempt to Take Over Primary Airport in Haiti, Marking Latest Attack on Government Facilities (Credits: The Columbian)

The assault unfolded mere hours after authorities in Haiti had imposed a nighttime curfew following a spate of violence during which armed gang members overran the nation’s two largest prisons, liberating thousands of inmates over the weekend.

“The secretary-general is deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs have intensified their attacks on critical infrastructure over the weekend,” remarked U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

A 72-hour state of emergency was declared Sunday night, with the government vowing to pursue the escaped inmates, many of whom were detained pending trial, facing charges ranging from murder to kidnapping.

“The police were ordered to use all legal means at their disposal to enforce the curfew and apprehend all offenders,” stated Finance Minister Patrick Boivert, acting as prime minister.

Gangs were already believed to wield control over as much as 80% of Port-au-Prince, the capital, increasingly coordinating their actions and targeting once unthinkable sites such as the Central Bank.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s recent trip to Kenya aimed to salvage support for a United Nations-endorsed security force to help stabilize Haiti in its confrontation with these ever-more potent criminal factions.

Dujarric underscored the urgent need for action, particularly in providing financial backing for the mission “to address the pressing security requirements of the Haitian people and prevent the country from plunging further into chaos.”

Gangs Attempt to Take Over Primary Airport in Haiti, Marking Latest Attack on Government Facilities

Gangs Attempt to Take Over Primary Airport in Haiti, Marking Latest Attack on Government Facilities (Credits: POLITICO)

According to the U.N., Haiti’s National Police force comprises roughly 9,000 officers tasked with safeguarding over 11 million citizens, a force consistently overwhelmed and outgunned.

The recent deadly weekend marked a nadir in Haiti’s spiral of violence. At least nine individuals, including four police officers, had been killed since Thursday as gangs intensified coordinated attacks on state institutions in Port-au-Prince, including the international airport and national soccer stadium.

However, the assault on the National Penitentiary late Saturday stunned Haitians. Nearly all of the 3,798 inmates held at the penitentiary managed to escape, according to the Office of Citizen Protection. Similarly, at the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, 1,033 inmates fled, including 298 convicts.

The office expressed grave concerns for the safety of judicial officials, victims, lawyers, and others in the aftermath of the mass jailbreak, condemning what it termed the government’s indifferent response to the attacks.

Following the penitentiary raid, three bodies with gunshot wounds were discovered at the prison entrance on Sunday.

In another area, the corpses of two men, hands bound behind their backs, lay lifeless as residents navigated around roadblocks set ablaze with burning tires.

Among the few who chose to remain incarcerated were 18 former Colombian soldiers accused of involvement in the July 2021 assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse.

“Please, please help us,” pleaded one of the men, Francisco Uribe, in a widely shared message on social media. “They are massacring people indiscriminately inside the cells.”

Colombia’s foreign ministry called on Haiti to provide “special protection” for the men.

A second Port-au-Prince prison housing around 1,400 inmates also fell prey to attackers.

Gunfire reverberated across several neighborhoods in the capital. Many residents lost internet service on Sunday after Haiti’s primary mobile network reported a fiber optic cable had been severed during the mayhem.

In the wake of last week’s gunfire at Haiti’s international airport, the U.S. Embassy suspended all official travel to the country. On Sunday night, it urged American citizens to depart as soon as possible.

While the Biden administration refrained from committing troops to any multinational force for Haiti, it offered financial and logistical support, expressing grave concern over the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

The escalation in attacks followed violent protests that turned deadly in recent days as the prime minister pursued progress on the proposed U.N.-backed security mission led by Kenya.

Henry assumed office as prime minister following Moise’s assassination and postponed plans for parliamentary and presidential elections, which have been overdue for almost a decade.

Jimmy Chérizier, a former elite police officer known as Barbecue who now heads a federation of gangs, claimed responsibility for the surge in attacks. He stated the goal was to capture Haiti’s police chief and government ministers, preventing Henry’s return.

The prime minister dismissed calls for his resignation and offered no comment when queried about the safety of his return.

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