American YouTuber freed after kidnapping in Haiti

An American YouTube personality who was kidnapped two weeks ago by a gang leader in Haiti was released over the weekend and was returning home to the United States on Monday morning, according to his father.

The 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 the its publication.

Kidnapped along with him was Mr. Maalouf’s guide, Jean Sacra Sean Roubens, a Haitian journalist. Mr. Roubens confirmed to the Times that he too had been released.

Mr Maalouf said this on social media who had been kidnapped by the leader of a rival gang and held in a “concrete shack surrounded by barbed wire” in a remote location.

“I can’t give any more details until I get home, but all I’ll say for now is: Glory be to God,” he said.

Mr. Chérizier could not be reached for comment and there is no evidence that he was involved in the abductions.

Mr. Maalouf, a Lebanese American originally from Georgia, refers to himself as “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 likes to do interviews with bad people, let’s put it that way,” Pierre Maalouf said.

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, the gang leader known in Haitian Creole as Lanmò Sanjou, or Death Can . Come every day.

In the video, Mr Wilson said the two men had been 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 hostage 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 that led to his arrest.

Mr. Roubens, the guide, 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 in a friendly manner with him.”

“It was the only way out of that situation,” he added.

Mr. Roubens, a seasoned fixer of YouTube personalities and foreign journalists who seek to report on criminal groups in Haiti, said he was traumatized and vowed to stay away from gangs in the future. “I’m not going to the red zone anymore, I’m done with this,” he said, adding that he regretted putting his family through “the pain they had to endure during the time I was away.”

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

“I knew he was safe,” Pierre Maalouf said, adding that Haitian gangs use kidnappings 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 it.

He added that the family had paid a ransom to free their son.

A State Department representative said the organization was “aware of reports of the kidnapping of an American citizen in Haiti” but provided no further details.

The State Department is advising Americans against traveling to Haiti, released citing violence and kidnappings. The United States and other governments have evacuated hundreds of people from Haiti in recent weeks.

The kidnappings of Maalouf and Roubens were the latest high-profile acts in Haiti by armed groups, which were blamed for at least 3,000 kidnappings last year, according to the United Nations.

Security in Haiti has degenerated into a “catastrophic situation”, the UN said on Thursday. Rising levels of gang violence against Haitians, combined with corruption, a sense of impunity and poor political governance, have brought the Caribbean nation’s state institutions “close to collapse”, the agency said.

The United Nations Human Rights Office reported that gang violence this year has killed 1,554 people and injured 826 others as of March 22. “The recent escalation of violence has increased human rights violations, including murders, abductions and rapes, especially against women and girls. ,” he said.

Mr. Maalouf, a self-described “video creator, traveler, comedian, storyteller,” has posted videos of his visits with armed groups around the world, including Brazil, Mexico and the Middle East. His YouTube channel has 1.4 million followers.

“I am Arab. I spent my time exploring the most dangerous and undocumented places on the globe; riding the line of death is where I feel most alive,” she said in a recent post.

On March 10, he wrote on the social media platform X: “I’m going to take another one of those trips.” She added: “If I die, thank you for looking at what I posted. 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,’” Pierre Maalouf said.

He said his son told him on the phone that he was being treated well. “He didn’t have the freedom,” he said. “He didn’t have a phone. But he was treated differently from the others ”.

The family did not reveal the amount of the ransom, but a security official familiar with the case told the Times that they paid less than the gang had asked for. The group backed down after pressure from Mr. Chérizier, the gang’s other leader, who was upset by news coverage of the case, Mr. Maalouf’s father said.