American YouTube personality released after kidnapping in Haiti

An American YouTube personality who was kidnapped by a gang leader in Haiti two weeks ago was released over the weekend and was on his way home to the United States as of 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 testimony release.

Also kidnapped with him was Mr. Maalouf’s leader, Jean Sacra Sean Roubens, a Haitian journalist. 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 remote location in a “concrete hut surrounded by barbed wire.”

“I can’t give any more details until I get home, but for now I’ll just say: 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 from Georgia, describes himself as an “Arab” on his social media platforms. He was kidnapped on March 14 near the airport in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, his father, Pierre Maalouf, told The Times.

“He enjoys doing interviews with bad people, let’s put it that way,” said Pierre Maalouf.

In a video posted on social media on Saturday morning, shortly before Adisson Pierre Maalouf’s release, he and Mr. Roubens are seen sitting on a sofa and exchanging hugs with Joseph Wilson, a gang leader known in Haitian Creole as Lanmò Sanjou or Death Cannon is known come every day.

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

Mr. Wilson is wanted in the United States in connection with 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 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

Mr. Roubens, the leader, 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 “behave friendly with him.”

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

Mr. Roubens, a veteran fixer for YouTube personalities and foreign journalists wanting to cover Haiti’s criminal groups, said he was traumatized and vowed to stay away from the gangs in the future. “I will no longer go to the red zone, I’m done with it,” he said, adding that he regretted causing his family “the pain they had to go through while I was away.”

Pierre Maalouf, 60, said his family had been in contact with his son throughout the ordeal and was confident he would be released unharmed.

“I knew he was safe,” Pierre Maalouf said, adding that gangs in Haiti use kidnapping 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 all.”

He added that the family paid a ransom to release his son.

A State Department official said the organization was “aware of reports of the kidnapping of a U.S. citizen in Haiti,” but did not provide further details.

The State Department is 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 were the latest high-profile acts by armed groups in Haiti, which the United Nations said were responsible for at least 3,000 kidnappings last year.

Security in Haiti has deteriorated to a “catastrophic situation,” the United Nations reported on Thursday. Rising gang violence against Haitians combined with corruption, a sense of impunity and poor political governance have brought the Caribbean country’s state institutions “on the verge of collapse,” the agency said.

The UN human rights office reported that gang violence had killed 1,554 people and injured 826 others this year as of March 22. “The recent escalation of violence has exacerbated human rights violations, including killings, abductions and rape, particularly against women and young girls,” it said.

Mr. Maalouf, a self-described “video artist, traveler, comedian and 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 arabian. I’ve spent my time exploring the most dangerous and undocumented places in the world. Driving the Death Line is where I feel most alive,” he said in a recent post.

On March 10, he wrote on social media platform If I live, all glory to God.”

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

“He expected this to happen one day and told me, ‘Don’t worry.’ “I know how to deal with 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 than the others.”

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

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