Haitian prime minister, Ariel Henry, was forced to flee a ceremony honoring Haitian founding father Jean-Jacques Dessalines when gunmen rushed the scene firing their weapons.
The attack happened the day after a bus full of American missionaries were kidnapped by gang members in Port-au-Prince. US officials are working with authorities in Haiti to negotiate their release. The kidnappers are demanding $1 million per person — a total of $17 million to safely set the hostages free, according to CBS News.
The annual ceremony commemorating 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 location of the celebration because of the gunmen, according to The Guardian. Instead of Henry, kingpin Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, and his gang members officiated the commemoration ceremony. Cherizier is the head of the G9 gang, a collective of nine Haitian gangs based in Port-au-Prince.
Social media video seems to show Cherizier laying the floral wreath and paying his respects to Dessalines while wearing a white suit and shirt, which is Haiti’s dress code for officials on national holidays.
On Sunday, several members of Cherizier’s gang were seen wearing T-shirts with the picture of former Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, who was assassinated in July, with the words “Justice for Jovenel” emblazoned 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 with them, but he has claimed to be a community leader giving protection from rival gangs, according to a Human Rights Watch report.
Prime Minister Henry remains under investigation in Haiti concerning the July 7 assasination of Moïse. The former president was killed at his home in an overnight ambush.