Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to flee a ceremony in honor of Haitian founder Jean-Jacques Dessalines as gunmen rushed to the scene and fired their weapons.
The attack came the day after a bus full of American missionaries was kidnapped by gang members in Port-au-Prince. U.S. officials are working with Haiti authorities to negotiate their release. The kidnappers are demanding $ 1 million per person – a total of $ 17 million to safely release the hostages, according to CBS News.
The annual ceremony commemorating the Dessalines, who led the island nation when it became the first in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery, was the first emperor of Haiti. Dessalines was assassinated in 1806.
Allegedly, the prime minister and his security could not even reach the site of the celebration because of the armed men, according to The Guardian. In place of Henry, King Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier and his gang members presided over the memorial service. Cherizier is the leader of the G9 gang, a collective of nine Haitian gangs based in Port-au-Prince.
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Video on social media appears to show Cherizier laying the wreath and showing respect for Dessalines while wearing a white suit and a shirt, which is Haiti’s dress code for officials on national holidays.
On Sunday, several members of the Cherizier gang were seen wearing T-shirts with the image of former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse assassinated in July with the words “Justice for Jovenel” adorned on them.
The missionaries are from an Ohio-based church organization, and authorities believe they were taken hostage by the “400 Mawozo” gang. It is unclear if Cherizier, a former police officer, has any connection to them, but he has claimed to be a community leader providing protection against rival gangs, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Prime Minister Henry is still under investigation in Haiti over the assassination of Moïse on July 7. The former president was killed in his home in an ambush overnight.