PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A powerful gang opened fire Saturday on a large group of parishioners led by a pastor as they marched through a community armed with machetes to rid the area of gang members.
The attack was filmed in real time by journalists at the scene, and several people were killed and others injured, Marie Yolène Gilles, director of human rights group Fondasyon Je Klere, told The Associated Press.
She watched online as hundreds of people from a local church marched through Canaan, a makeshift town in the outskirts of the capital of Port-au-Prince founded by survivors who lost their homes in the devastating 2010 earthquake.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were killed and injured in the attack.
Canaan is controlled by a gang led by a man identified only as “Jeff,” who is believed to be allied with the “5 Seconds” gang.
Gangs have grown more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and they are estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince.
Gédéon Jean, director of Haiti’s Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, told the AP that he also watched the event unfold online and planned to ask the Ministry of Justice to investigate.
He accused the pastor of being irresponsible because he “engaged a group of people and put them in a situation like this.”
The parishioners who clutched machetes and yelled “Free Canaan!” were no match for gang members armed with assault rifles.
“Police should have stopped them from going,” Jean said. “It’s extremely horrible for the state to let something like this happen.”
A spokesperson for Haiti’s National Police did not return a message for comment.
From Jan. 1 until Aug. 15, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, more than 950 kidnapped and another 902 injured, according to the most recent United Nations statistics.
Fed up with the surge in gang violence, Haitians organized a violent movement in April known as “bwa kale” that targets suspected gang members. More than 350 people have been killed since the uprising began, according to the U.N.
In October, the Haitian government requested the immediate deployment of a foreign armed force to quell gang violence.
The government of Kenya has offered to lead a multinational force, and a delegation of top officials from the eastern African country visited Haiti recently as part of a reconnaissance mission.
The U.S. said earlier this month that it would introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize Kenya to take such action.
Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed.