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Police: Infamous gang leader killed after prison breakout

One of Haiti's most powerful gang leaders, Arnel Joseph, was killed on Friday, a day after he and dozens of other inmates in a prison breakout that left at least eight people dead, including the prison director, authorities said.

Police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told The Associated Press that Joseph was riding on a motorcycle through the Artibonite area in the town of L’Estère when he was spotted by a police checkpoint. He said Joseph pulled out a gun and exchanged gunfire with police. Desrosiers said the unidentified driver of the motorcycle was injured but fled.

Joseph ruled Village de Dieu, or Village of God, a shantytown in downtown Port-au-Prince, and other communities, including some in Artibonite, which is Haiti’s largest department and located north of the capital. He had been Haiti’s most wanted fugitive until his arrest in 2019.

National police officers search for inmates on the perimeters of the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. At least seven people were killed and one injured on Thursday after eyewitnesses told The Associated Press that several inmates tried to escape from the prison in Haiti’s capital. (AP PhotoDieu Nalio Chery)

Some suspect the jailbreak was aimed at freeing Joseph, although authorities have not provided details about who organized the breakout or why. Residents who declined to be identified because they feared for their life told the AP that they saw gunmen shoot at prison guards on Thursday before inmates escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison in northeast Port-au-Prince.

It is unclear how many inmates escaped, although Desrosiers said at least 40 were recaptured.

The prison is known for a 2014 breakout in which more than 300 of the 899 inmates being held there at the time escaped.

Pedestrians walk past a body of a prison inmate lying on a street near the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison after an attempted breakout, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. At least seven people were killed and one injured on Thursday after eyewitnesses told The Associated Press that several inmates tried to escape from a prison in Haiti’s capital. (AP PhotoDieu Nalio Chery).

President Jovenel Moïse said in a tweet that he condemned the jailbreak and asked people to remain calm. He added that Haiti's National Police “is instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control.”

The bodies of two inmates lie on the street outside the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison after an attempted breakout, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. At least seven people were killed and one injured after eyewitnesses told The Associated Press that several inmates tried to escape from the prison in Haiti’s capital. (AP PhotoDieu Nalio Chery)