Gunfire near Haiti airport disrupts flights for second day

By Michael Rios, Caitlin Hu, Jim Rogers, Sahar Akbarzai and Chris Lau, CNN

CNN  —  Flights at Port-au-Prince airport in Haiti’s capital have been disrupted for the second straight day by heavy gunfire nearby, as the Caribbean nation grapples with surging gang violence and political instability.

The US Embassy in Haiti issued a security alert on Friday, warning of gunfire and disruptions to traffic near the domestic and international terminals of the Toussaint Louverture International Airport, as well as surrounding areas including a hotel and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police.

“The US Embassy is temporarily halting travel of official US personnel to the airport and instructing any US personnel at the airport to remain there,” the embassy said.

It comes a day after shootings erupted across Haiti’s capital, forcing flight cancellations and killing at least four people during an attack on a police station.

American Airlines said Thursday it had suspended its daily service between Miami and Toussaint Louverture International Airport in Port-au-Prince.

“We will continue to monitor the situation with safety and security top of mind and will adjust our operation as needed,” spokesperson Laura Masvidal told CNN.

Haitian airline Sunrise Airways told CNN that it suspended “all flights until further notice to ensure the safety of passengers, ground crews, and aircraft.”

Rapid gunfire near the airport had “caused damage to some aircraft and endangered users” of the domestic terminal, according to Sunrise Airways.

A US flight carrying dozens of Haitian deportees was also canceled, according to a source with knowledge of the operation and a lawyer for one of the deportees.

Immigration lawyer Philip Issa told CNN on Friday that his client was removed and taken back to detention facilities after boarding the plane in Miami Thursday.

“It’s baffling that we’ve continued to deport people to Haiti when the conditions are so dire,” he said, while also complaining that US authorities had failed to provide food to the detainees or let them out since 4 p.m. the previous day.

CNN has reached out to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for comment.

Surging gang violence

Haiti has been gripped by a wave of unrest and gang violence in recent years.

Warring gangs control much of Port-au-Prince, choking off vital supply lines to the rest of the country. Gang members have also terrorized the metropolitan population, forcing some 200,000 people to flee their homes amid waves of indiscriminate killing, kidnapping, arson and rape.

Some 1,100 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in January alone, in what the United Nations called the most violent month in two years.

More than 8,400 people were victims of such violence through last year, according to a report from the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BIUH).

Waves of crime and violence began to sweep across Haiti following the assassination of former President Jovenel Moise in 2021.

Public frustration has mounted against Prime Minister Ariel Henry for his failure to put a lid on the unrest, especially after he failed to hold elections supposedly slated for last month, citing the escalating violence.

On Wednesday, Henry told other Caribbean nations’ leaders during a regional summit that he would hold polls no later than August 31 next year, his first confirmation on when a vote will finally go ahead.

Leaders from the CARICOM regional bloc – a political and economic grouping of 20 developing countries and mostly island states – said they agreed to dispatch a team to assess the electoral needs of Haiti.

A powerful Haitian gang leader said gun fights that broke out across Port-au-Prince on Thursday were aimed at overthrowing Henry’s government, multiple media outlets reported.

Jimmy Cherizier, known as “Barbecue,” said in a video shared on social media that the battle will “not only topple the Ariel [Henry] government,” but “change the whole system,” according to international news agencies and Haitian media. CNN cannot independently verify the video’s authenticity.

An attack on Bon Repos Police Station, north of Port-au-Prince, on Thursday left at least four people dead and three wounded, a security source told CNN.

Three other people were injured in separate attacks across the capital – one at the airport, a second near a prison in downtown Port-au-Prince, and a third inside the prison, the security source said.

International support

The fighting broke out as Henry is visiting Kenya to finalize details with Kenyan President William Ruto for the expected deployment of a multinational security support mission to Haiti. CNN has contacted the Haitian government for comment.

The security mission, authorized by the UN, has been seen by the international community as key to containing the situation in Haiti. Kenya volunteered to serve as the lead nation in that mission.

Officials from Kenya signed an agreement on Friday to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti as part of the security mission.

“From Kenya, we are ready for this deployment, and I request all the other partners across the globe to step up so that we can provide a response in good time,” Ruto said on Friday.

Henry thanked Kenya for agreeing to lead the mission, saying that after six months of fine-tuning it, “finally, we sign. It’s the last step.”

The signing of the deal is intended to satisfy a court ruling from Kenya’s High Court, which delayed the deployment of troops in January after finding that a reciprocal agreement with Haiti was needed.

The United States intended to contribute $200 million to the multinational security support mission to back the Haitian national police “with planning, with intelligence, with airlift capacity, communications, and medical equipment and services,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.

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