Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live

News

news

Gangs in Haiti try to seize control of main airport

Soldiers guard the entrance of the international airport in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, March 4, 2024   -  
Copyright © africanews
Odelyn Joseph/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved

Haitian politics

Heavily armed gangs tried to seize control of Haiti’s main international airport on Monday, exchanging gunfire with police and soldiers in the latest attack on key government sites in an explosion of violence that includes a mass escape from the country’s two biggest prisons.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport was closed when the attack occurred, with no planes operating and no passengers on site.

Associated Press journalists saw an armored truck on the tarmac shooting at gangs to try and prevent them from entering airport grounds as scores of employees and other workers fled from whizzing bullets.

It is the biggest attack on the airport in Haiti’s history.

Last week, the airport was struck briefly by bullets amid ongoing gang attacks, but gangs did not enter the airport nor seize control of it.

The attack occurred just hours after authorities in Haiti ordered a nighttime curfew following violence in which armed gang members overran the two biggest prisons and freed thousands of inmates over the weekend.

A 72-hour state of emergency began Sunday night. The government said it would try to track down the escaped inmates, including from a penitentiary were the vast majority were in pre-trial detention, with some accused of slayings, kidnappings and other crimes.

Gangs already were estimated to control up to 80% of Port-au-Prince, the capital. They are increasingly coordinating their actions and choosing once unthinkable targets like the Central Bank.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry traveled to Kenya last week to try to salvage support for a United Nations-backed security force to help stabilize Haiti in its conflict with the increasingly powerful crime groups.

Haiti’s National Police has roughly 9,000 officers to provide security for more than 11 million people, according to the U.N. They are routinely overwhelmed and outgunned.

The deadly weekend marked a new low in Haiti's downward spiral of violence. At least nine people had been killed since Thursday — four of them police officers — as gangs stepped up coordinated attacks on state institutions in Port-au-Prince, including the international airport and national soccer stadium.

But the attack on the National Penitentiary late Saturday shocked Haitians who are accustomed to living under the constant threat of violence.

All but 98 of the 3,798 inmates being held at the penitentiary escaped, according to the Office of Citizen Protection. Meanwhile, at the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, 1,033 escaped, including 298 convicts.