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American YouTube personality released after being kidnapped in Haiti

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An American YouTube personality, kidnapped two weeks ago by a gang leader in Haiti, was released over the weekend and was returning home to the United States Monday morning, according to his father.

American Adisson Pierre Maalouf, 26, had traveled to Haiti from the neighboring Dominican Republic to interview Jimmy Chérizier, a former police officer and gang leader known as Barbecue, according to Mr. Maalouf’s family, who spoke to the New York Times after his arrest. release.

Mr. Maalouf’s guide, Jean Sacra Sean Roubens, a Haitian journalist, was kidnapped with him. Mr Roubens confirmed to The Times that he had also been released.

Mr Maalouf said on social media that he had been kidnapped by a rival gang leader and held in a “concrete shack surrounded by barbed wire” in a remote location.

“I can’t give any more details until I go home, but all I will say for now is: Glory to God,” he said.

Mr. Chérizier could not be reached for comment, and there is no evidence that he was involved in the kidnappings.

Mr. Maalouf, a Lebanese-American originally from Georgia, refers to himself as “Arab” on his social media platforms. He was kidnapped March 14 near the airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, his father, Pierre Maalouf, told the Times.

“He likes to do interviews with bad people, let’s put it that way,” Pierre Maalouf said.

In a video posted to social media on Saturday morning, shortly before Adisson Pierre Maalouf’s release, he and Mr. Roubens are seen sitting on a couch and exchanging hugs with Joseph Wilson, a gang leader known in Haitian Creole as name Lanmò Sanjou, or Death Can. Come any day.

In the video, Mr Wilson said the two men had been treated well, despite being held against their will. He could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Wilson is wanted in the United States for the kidnapping of 16 Christian missionaries and their children, held for ransom in 2021. He was indicted in 2022 on 16 counts of hostage-taking, and the U.S. government offered a $1 fine. million dollar reward for information leading to his arrest.

Mr. Roubens, the guide, said in an interview that he and Mr. Maalouf were held at gunpoint by armed men and forced to record videos with Mr. Wilson, pretending to “act friendly with him.

“It was the only way out of this situation,” he added.

Mr. Roubens, a veteran fixer of YouTube personalities and foreign journalists seeking to cover Haiti’s criminal groups, said he was traumatized and vowed to stay away from gangs in the future. “I won’t go to the red zone anymore, I’m done with that,” he said, adding that he regretted putting his family through “the pain they had to endure during my absence”.

Pierre Maalouf, 60, said his family had stayed in touch with his son throughout the ordeal and were confident he would be released safely.

“I knew he was safe,” Pierre Maalouf said, adding that gangs in Haiti use kidnappings as a source of money and do not harm their victims if they receive a ransom. “They want to negotiate deals. They get what they want, and that’s basically it. »

He added that the family paid a ransom to free their son.

A State Department official said the organization was “aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Haiti” but gave no further details.

The State Department advises Americans against traveling to Haiti, citing widespread violence and kidnappings. The United States and other governments have evacuated hundreds of people from Haiti in recent weeks.

The kidnappings of Mr. Maalouf and Mr. Roubens are the latest high-profile acts carried out in Haiti by armed groups, which last year were blamed for at least 3,000 kidnappings, according to the United Nations.

Security in Haiti has deteriorated to a “cataclysmic situation,” the UN reported Thursday. Increasing levels of gang violence against Haitians, combined with corruption, a sense of impunity and poor political governance, have brought the Caribbean country’s state institutions “to the brink of collapse”, said the agency.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that gang violence this year had left 1,554 people dead and 826 others injured as of March 22. ,” it said.

Mr. Maalouf, who describes himself as a “video creator, traveler, comedian, storyteller,” has posted videos about his visits to armed groups around the world, including in Brazil, Mexico and the Middle East. . His YouTube channel has 1.4 million followers.

“I am Arab. I spent my time exploring the most dangerous and least documented places on the globe; It’s on the death line that I feel most alive,” he said in a recent article.

On March 10, he wrote on social media platform X: “I’m taking another one of these trips.” He added: “If I die, thank you for looking at what I posted. If I live, all glory to God.

His father said his son spent most of his time traveling to dangerous places.

“He expected it to happen one day and he told me, ‘Don’t worry. I know how to manage them,” said Pierre Maalouf.

He said his son told him on the phone that he was being treated well. “He didn’t have his freedom,” he said. “He didn’t have his phone. But he was treated differently from the others.

The family did not reveal the ransom amount, but a security official familiar with the matter told The Times that they paid less than the gang demanded. The group backed down under pressure from Mr. Chérizier, the other gang leader, who was upset by media coverage of the case, Mr. Maalouf’s father said.

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