YouTuber allegedly kidnapped in Haiti freed after paying $50,000 ransom

An American YouTuber who said he was kidnapped in Haiti on a reporting trip has been freed after paying a $50,000 ransom to gang leaders, but appears to still be stuck in the country.

Addison Pierre Maalouf, who posts adventure travel videos from dangerous hotspots under his “YourFellowArab” channel, travelled to Haiti in March to interview Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, part of a group of gang leaders who’ve announced an alliance and pressured outgoing prime minister Ariel Henry to resign, while clashing with police across the country.

On 14 March, Mr Maalouf was kidnapped along with his Haitian fixer, Jean Sacra Sean Roubens, and held for more than two weeks, he told the Haitian Times. At the time, the US State Department warned against travelling to the country.

The YouTuber, who has posted videos about Mexican drug cartels and Las Vegas “tunnel people,” said “corrupt policemen” allowed him to be kidnapped by the 400 Mawozo gang.

“We had confirmed an interview with Barbecue, Barbecue had approved us, and we had safe passage until a group of corrupt security set us up – corrupt police officers in the country set us up and set up an ambush on us to kidnap us,” Mr Maalouf told VOA.

“You know I came to this country [Haiti] because I wanted to give a voice to someone who’s leading an insurrection in this country against a very, very corrupt government,” he added.

Barbecue is the target of US and UN sanctions for alleged instances of human rights abuses, including the rape of women and children, as well as kidnappings.

Gang members allegedly took the YouTuber’s camera memory card and other pieces of property.

Some doubted that the YouTuber had really been kidnapped when a video surfaced on social media showing him drinking and smoking with Mawozo gang leader Joseph Wilson.

“Behind the videos are 10 guys holding guns,” Mr Maalouf told the Haitian Times. “I played the games I had to play, you understand? I’m locked in a room for 17 days, I can either cry or I can make friends with them. But I’m still kidnapped.”

After being released, things took another turn, with the YouTuber saying a dispute with a rental car company made him miss his flight on Monday. As of Monday evening, he remained in Haiti and was staying at a police facility, according to the outlet.

The Independent has contacted Mr Maalouf for comment.

Haiti has struggled for security in the years since the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moïse.

Gangs have taken over large swathes of the country, including most of the capital. Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced last month he would resign, allowing a transitional body to appoint an interim leader and then facilitate national elections.

More than 53,000 people have fled gang Haiti’s capital in less than three weeks, according to a recent United Nations report.