Away from the besieged center of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, one gang leader has gained notoriety for attacks in the city's suburbs. Now he's being linked to the murder of former President Jovenel Moïse.
A spokesperson for the Haitian National Police (Police Nationale d'Haïti -- PNH) named gang leader Vitel'Homme Innocent as a suspect in the July 2021 assassination of President Moïse during a March 10 interview with Radio Télévision Caraïbes. Police did not clarify Vitel'Homme's alleged role in the killing.
Vitel'Homme has made a name for himself in recent months as the leader of the Kraze Baryè gang, orchestrating a string of attacks on police and residents of towns on the outskirts of Haiti's capital.
The Kraze Baryè gang attacked a PNH police station in Fort-Jacques, a wealthy suburb south of Port-au-Prince, on March 1, stealing guns and bulletproof vests, and then setting fire to the station, Haiti Libre reported.
A month earlier, on February 29, the gang reportedly shot and killed four people, including a PNH officer, again in Fort-Jacques. The same day, Vitel'Homme's men burned down a police station in Pétion-Ville, while on January 21, the gang engaged in a shootout with PNH officers in Métivier, killing at least four.
In response to the attacks, the PNH announced "Operation Tornado 1," targeting Vitel'Homme and members of Kraze Baryè in the gang's traditional strongholds of Torcelle and Pernier, areas east and northeast of Port-au-Prince, Alter Presse reported.
Kraze Baryè's attacks have marked an increase in gang activity outside of the crime-ridden capital city, whose economy is "dead," according to Eric Calpas, a gang researcher in Haiti, who spoke to InSight Crime.
Up to 30 gangs now operate around Pétion-Ville, a suburb south of the capital, where the capital's financial and economic activity is now centered, Calpas added.
InSight Crime Analysis
The accusations of the Vitel'Homme's involvement in the murder of Moïse remain murky. What is more apparent is that Haiti's dire security situation permits smaller gang leaders to quickly grow in prominence.
Originally a political activist, Vitel'Homme turned to crime as an alternative route to gain political capital but has maintained ties to grassroots political movements and actors, Calpas explained.
The Kraze Baryè leader previously claimed he has direct connections with Ariel Henry, Haiti's prime minister and acting president, as well as the director general of the PNH, Frantz Elbé. Neither the government nor PNH has confirmed his claims, though links between criminal and political leaders are well-established in the country. The United States, Canada, and the United Nations have imposed sanctions against multiple former and current politicians for their links to a litany of criminal activities and crime groups.
These most recent attacks in Port-au-Prince suburbs are not Vitel'Homme's first connection to serious crime. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) accuses him of involvement in the kidnapping of 17 US and Canadian Christian missionaries in October 2021. It is offering a $1 million reward for information leading to his capture.
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According to the US State Department, Vitel'Homme worked with the 400 Mawozo gang, one of the largest criminal groups in Haiti, to carry out the kidnappings of the North American missionaries. He also provided weapons and made ransom demands during the kidnappings, as well as serving as a bodyguard for Joly Germine, a senior leader of 400 Mawozo, the US State Department claims.
The Kraze Baryè gang has carried out kidnappings in the past, delivering victims to allied gangs in exchange for weapons and ammunition, with the other groups receiving the ransom payments, according to Calpas.
Now, with the gang increasing its presence in Fort-Jacques, and other suburbs like Fermate, Vitel'Homme and his men should have ample opportunities for kidnapping and associated crime.