US prosecutors said Joly, a leader of the notorious 400 Mawozo gang, is the first person to be charged in connection with the kidnapping of the missionaries from Christian Aid Ministries in October. The plight of the group drew global attention to a surge in kidnappings by armed gangs that has roiled the Caribbean nation.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release that the charge reflects that the Justice Department will be “relentless” in its efforts “to track down anyone who kidnaps a US citizen abroad” and will use “the full reach” of law authorities enforcement to hold those who are general safety of Americans accountable.
400 Mawozo demanded $1 million for each of the 17 missionaries — a group that included one Canadian and several children — who were kidnapped in October while returning from a visit to an orphanage. Five hostages were released in November and early December, while the rest escaped around Dec. 16, the release said.
Abductions by the busload: Haitians are being held hostage by a surge in kidnappings
The Associated Press reported this year that a ransom was paid.
The captives ranged in age from 8 months to 48 years at the time they were abducted. They came from Amish, Mennonite and Anabaptist communities in Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and the Canadian province of Ontario.
Christian Aid Ministries did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
US prosecutors allege that Joly directed other members of 400 Mawozo from prison and “asserted influence and control over the gang’s operations,” including the ransom negotiation for the release of the missionaries.
“One of the gang’s stated goals in holding the hostages captive was to secure from the Haitian government Germine’s release from prison,” the indictment alleges. “The defendant was in regular contact with other 400 Mawozo leaders about the hostages’ kidnapping, captivity and ransom.”
Haitian analysts told The Washington Post that Joly had a cellphone in his Port-au-Prince prison cell that he used to run the gang’s operations. They said the 29-year-old was well-dressed and liked to throw birthday parties for himself.
Remaining US, Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti are released
400 Mawozo took responsibility for the kidnapping of the missionaries in videos posted on social media.
In one of them, recorded at a funeral for slain gang members, Wilson Joseph, another gang leader, threatened to “put a bullet in the heads” of each of the missionaries if his demands weren’t met and blamed a former Haitian national police chief for the gang members’ deaths.
“I cry water,” Joseph said in the video. “I will have you cry blood.”
Over the past year, armed gangs have inflicted terror on Haitians from all walks of life as they have carried out a growing number of violent kidnappings for ransom amid a weakening of institutions. In recent months, clash between 400 Mawozo and a rival gang have displaced thousands and killed dozens of civilians.