Haitian authorities have announced that more than 400 inmates have escaped and 25 people are dead in a prison break, making it the country's largest and deadliest in a decade.

A piece of the uniform of one of the inmates hangs on the barbed wire on the side of the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, suburb of the Haitian capital, on February 25, 2021. (AFP)
A piece of the uniform of one of the inmates hangs on the barbed wire on the side of the Croix-des-Bouquets prison, suburb of the Haitian capital, on February 25, 2021. (AFP) (AFP)

More than 400 prisoners have been on the run in Haiti a day after they escaped from jail in a violent breakout that left 25 people dead, including the prison director, according to officials.

AFP photographs showed at least three dead bodies lying outside the prison on Thursday and some captured prisoners under armed guard in the back of a truck.

"Twenty-five people died including six prisoners and Divisional Inspector Paul Hector Joseph who was in charge of the prison," Secretary of Communication Frantz Exantus said of the Thursday's mass escape from the jail in the suburbs of capital Port-au-Prince.

"Among those killed were some ordinary citizens who were killed by the prisoners during their escape," Exantus told a press conference, adding 1,125 of the 1,542 prisoners at the Croix-des-Bouquets jail were in their cells on Friday morning.

Police were able to recapture 60 of the prisoners who escaped but more than 200 are still on the loose and wanted. 

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Most wanted gang leader killed

One of the inmates who died was gang leader Arnel Joseph, who was gunned down on Friday at a police check 120 kilometres (75 miles) north of the prison.

Joseph died, still wearing cuffs on his ankles, when police attempted to flag down the motorbike he was traveling on at a checkpoint en route to his base in the central region of Artibonite, according to police spokesman Gary Desrosiers.

The driver refused to stop and Joseph pulled a gun on the police. They shot back, mortally wounding him, while the driver and the third motorbike passenger escaped, Desrosiers said.

Joseph, allegedly head of one of Haiti's main criminal networks, was arrested in 2019 and had tried to escape from the prison last July after advertising his plan in a social media video a few days before the attempt.

While serving a sentence for murder, Joseph had already escaped twice from another prison, in Port-au-Prince, in 2010 and 2017.

Inaugurated in 2012, the high-security Croix-des-Bouquets prison was built with funding from Canada and has a maximum capacity of 872 inmates, although nearly double that number were incarcerated there before the escape.

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Security measures

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 penitentiary.

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

Some believed that attack was designed to free Clifford Brandt, the son of a prominent businessman, who had been imprisoned since 2012 for allegedly kidnapping the adult children of a rival businessman.

Brandt was captured two days later near the Dominican Republic border.

After the 2014 breakout, officials said they were taking steps to up security at the prison that Canada built in 2012, including installing security cameras and placing ankle monitors on the most dangerous prisoners. 

It wasn't immediately clear if any of those measures were taken.

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Prison overcrowding

At the time of Thursday's breakout, the prison held 1,542 inmates, nearly twice its capacity.

Haiti's largest prison breakout in recent history occurred after the devastating 2010 earthquake in which more than 4,200 inmates fled the notorious National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince.

President Jovenel Moise tweeted on Friday that he condemned the most recent 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.”

Meanwhile, Helen La Lime, Haiti's special representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said in a statement that she was deeply concerned with the mutiny and prison escape.

“I encourage the police to speed up investigations on the circumstances surrounding this incident, redouble its efforts to re-apprehend the escapees, and strengthen security around prisons throughout the country,” she said. 

“This prison break further highlights the problem of prolonged preventive detention and prison overcrowding which remains matter of concern that must be urgently addressed by Haitian authorities.”

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies