U.S. charges Haitian for role in 2021 kidnapping of missionaries

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(Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday said it had charged a Haitian gang member with hostage-taking for his role in the kidnapping of 16 American missionaries last year.

Jean Pelice is a member of the 400 Mawozo gang and was transferred into U.S. custody on May 16, according to the statement from the department, which also said the criminal complaint was unsealed on Thursday.

In May, Haitian gang leader Joly “Yonyon” Germine became the first defendant charged in the crime that brought global attention to the power of gangs in the Caribbean nation. He has pleaded not guilty.

Two of the hostages were release in November, and three more in December. The group that organized the missionaries’ trip, Christian Aid Ministries, later said the remaining hostages escaped.

Haiti on Thursday commemorates the one-year anniversary of the murder of President Jovenel Moise, whose killing created a power vacuum and allowed the country’s gangs to expand their territory and even take over the headquarters of the nation’s courts.

Pelice made his first appearance on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department said.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas in Los Angeles; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Sandra Maler)