Haiti gang opens fire on church protest, leaving fatalities

A man holds a machete during a demonstration against insecurity in Carrefour-Feuilles, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on August 14, 2023.

Photo credit: AFP

Gang members in Port-au-Prince opened fire on parishioners at an evangelical church marching to protest criminal mayhem in their district, Haitian police said Monday.

The death toll from Saturday's attack, the latest burst of violence from gangs that control most of the city, remained unknown.

The march was organized by Pastor Marco Zidor, leader of the Piscine de Bethesda evangelical church. Zidor had gathered his followers, some carrying machetes or sticks, to march toward the area held by members of the Canaan gang in the north of the capital.

However, presumed gang members opened fire with automatic weapons as the crowd arrived. Videos broadcast by the gang show numerous corpses strewn about.

Contacted by AFP, an official from the Piscine de Bethesda church said he was "not in a position to give any information at the moment."

Haitian National Police on Monday condemned a "regrettable tragedy," saying its forces had tried to avoid a bloodbath.

Police set up security perimeters and sought to convince the parishioners to desist "in order to avoid bloodshed at the hands of bandits who had an arsenal of war weapons at their disposal," a police statement said.

"However, the demonstrators bypassed the security arrangements... and still arrived in the desired areas to confront the members of said gang," it added.

Police said the confrontation "left several demonstrators shot dead and several others wounded. Some of the faithful are... held hostage."

Among the survivors was Zidor, and government prosecutor Roosevelt Zamor summoned him to court Monday to answer to accusations that he led followers to their deaths. 

The Je Klere Foundation, a human rights group, called on prosecutors to crack down on those responsible, noting that "incitements to violence in sermons are criminal acts provided for and punished by the Haitian Criminal Code."

More than 2,400 people have been killed in Haiti since the start of 2023 amid rampant gang violence, the UN said earlier this month.

Gangs control roughly 80 percent of the capital, and violent crimes including kidnappings for ransom, carjackings, rape and armed theft are common.