Police: Haitian gang leader, 24 others dead after prison breakout

Arnel Joseph is among several dead after an exchange of gunfire near capital Port-au-Prince as 400 prisoners escape.

The bodies of two dead inmates lie on the pavement by the Croix-des-Bouquets prison from where many prisoners escaped and where several people were killed, in Croix-des-Bouquets, suburb of the Haitian capital [Reginald Louissaint Jr/AFP]

One of Haiti’s most powerful gang leaders, Arnel Joseph, was killed on Friday, a day after he and hundreds of other inmates staged a prison break that left at least 25 people dead, including the prison director, authorities said.

Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told The Associated Press news agency that Joseph was riding on a motorcycle through the Artibonite area in the town of L’Estere when he was spotted by a police checkpoint.

He said Joseph pulled out a gun and exchanged gunfire with police. Desrosiers said the unidentified driver of the motorcycle was injured but fled.

Joseph ruled Village de Dieu, or Village of God, a shantytown in downtown Port-au-Prince, and other communities, including some in Artibonite, which is Haiti’s largest department and located north of the capital. He had been Haiti’s most wanted fugitive until his arrest in 2019.

Joseph had previously tried to escape from the prison last July after advertising his plan in a social media video a few days before the attempt.

While serving a sentence for murder, Joseph had already escaped twice from another prison, in Port-au-Prince, in 2010 and 2017.

Some prisoners captured alive after their breakout where several people were killed, including gang leader Arnel Joseph in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, February 25, 2021 [Reginald Louissant Jr/AFP]

At least 400 prisoners were on the run as of Friday, according to reports, while at least 40 have been recaptured.

Some suspect the jailbreak was aimed at freeing Joseph, although authorities have not provided details about who organised the escape or why. Residents who declined to be identified because they feared for their life told the AP that they saw gunmen shoot at prison guards on Thursday before inmates escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison in northeast Port-au-Prince.

It is unclear how many inmates escaped, although Desrosiers said at least 40 were recaptured.

The prison is known for a 2014 breakout in which more than 300 of the 899 inmates being held there at the time escaped.

President Jovenel Moise said in a tweet that he condemned the jailbreak and asked people to remain calm. He added that Haiti’s National Police “is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control”.

Inaugurated in 2012, the high-security Croix-des-Bouquets prison was built with funding from Canada and has a maximum capacity of 872 inmates, although nearly double that number were incarcerated there before the escape.

Source: AP