A mob in the Haitian capital beat and burned 13 suspected gang members to death with gasoline-soaked tires Monday after pulling the men from police custody at a traffic stop, police and witnesses said.
The horrific vigilante violence underlined public anger over the increasingly lawless situation in Port-au-Prince where criminal gangs have taken control over an estimated 60% of the city since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Six more burned bodies were laid in a nearby neighborhood later Monday, and some witnesses said that police killed them and residents set them on fire, but the AP could not verify the accounts independently.
Haiti National Police said in a brief statement that officers in the city's Canape Vert section stopped and searched a minibus for contraband early Monday and had confiscated weapons from suspects before they were "unfortunately lynched by members of the population." The statement did not elaborate on how members of the crowd were able to take control of the suspects.
A witness who gave his name as Edner Samuel told The Associated Press that members of the crowd took the suspected gangsters away from police, beat them and stoned them before putting tires on them, pouring gasoline over them and burning them.
An AP reporter at the scene saw 13 bodies burning in a street.
The fires drew hundreds of onlookers in the hilly suburb of the city, many of them shielding their noses from the fumes. The Canape Vert neighborhood so far has managed to evade control by the criminal gangs.
Samuel said the suspects were believed to have been heading to another area to join a group of gang members who were battling police. Another witness, Jean Josue, said there had been a lot of shooting in the area since the early morning.
The situation in the capital was tense, and shots could be heard ringing out from several neighborhoods.
In the nearby area of Turgeau, a few minutes’ drive from Canape Vert, witnesses said that police had killed six gang suspects in a firefight, and that local residents dragged the bodies from where they fell to a central location and lit them on fire.
An AP reporter saw the six burned bodies. Police did not immediately release any statements about the violence in Turgeau.
Prime Minister Ariel Henry tweeted that his government expresses its sympathy to the police officers injured in recent operations.
"I applaud the considerable and meritorious efforts of the National Police to restore order and peace in our cities and neighborhoods," he tweeted. "There is still a lot to do."
Witnesses in Canape Vert said the suspects there were believed to have been members of the Kraze Barye gang, which translates to "Breaking Barriers." Authorities say the group is led by Vitel'Homme Innocent, who is accused of helping kidnap 17 U.S. missionaries in October 2021 and is also linked to the assassination of Moïse.