A rural gang is shooting police officers and kidnapping en masse in Haiti’s northern regions, displaying tactics more commonly used by urban armed groups concentrated in the distant capital of Port-au-Prince.
Haitian authorities launched an operation against the Kokorat San Ras gang on August 1, killing three members and wounding six more in several remote villages within the Artibonite department, according to a police statement published by local press. The operation rescued nearly 30 victims who had been kidnapped by the gang on July 29.
Days earlier, on July 28, Kokorat San Ras had ambushed a police patrol and killed one officer, while on July 31 the gang reportedly opened fire on a carload of Education Ministry employees.
All three incidents took place along a stretch of National Road No. 5, a key highway connecting Haiti’s northern seaports to the departmental capital of Gonaïves. Security forces have vowed to re-establish control in gang-controlled territories.
“A second phase is planned to liberate the villages of la Plate, Odigé, Bera and Pendu ... it will last as long as necessary for the eradication of this gang from this zone,” the police said in an August 1 statement.
It is a familiar message. In January, Kokorat San Ras kidnapped a busload of almost 60 people. Police quickly freed the hostages, but have since been unable to dismantle the group despite a string of arrests in January, February, and March.
InSight Crime Analysis
The sudden rise of Kokorat San Ras highlights a key development in Haiti’s underworld: the emergence of brutal rural gangs.
Though banditry is common in the Haitian countryside, Kokorat San Ras operates on a different level. The gang first made national headlines in late 2021, when it threatened a local judge, before murdering two of his family members.
Local media report the gang controls sections of both National Roads No. 5 and 1, extorting and ransoming cargo and passengers with impunity. It also wields at least some high-powered weaponry. In January, police seized one of their own Galil assault rifles from a Kokorat San Ras gangster.
In fact, the group is reminiscent of the early 400 Mawozo, now Haiti’s single largest gang. It too emerged in the countryside and focused on controlling the national roads. And 400 Mawozo also employed mass kidnappings in Haiti.
However, just as 400 Mawozo’s brash crimes sparked a heavy police crackdown, Kokorat San Ras is also increasingly drawing the attention of security forces. A key lieutenant in the gang, alias "Meyer," was shot by police in January, while local authorities have now deployed patrols on key stretches of road.