Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry Flees Shootout Between His Security Team, Armed Group

On the 218th anniversary of Haiti's independence, Prime Minister Ariel Henry had to flee a cathedral in the Haitian city of Gonaïves after an assassination attempt.

Local media reported that the shootout between an armed group and Henry's security took place on Saturday, as Haitians celebrated the new year. One died and two others were injured in the sudden burst of violence.

The prime minister had been attending mass at Saint-Charles-de-Boromé cathedral in Gonaïves to celebrate Haiti's Independence Day. The gunfire began as Henry and his entourage were leaving the building.

Henry was not injured and managed to escape the city, but he was not able to make a speech that was planned for later that day. A Haitian National Police spokesperson told the Associated Press the area has been secured as of Monday.

According to The Gleaner, a Jamaican newspaper, prior to the mass, one of the armed gangs controlling the area warned Henry not to come to Gonaïves.

In a statement written in Haitian Creole and posted to Twitter Sunday, Henry condemned the people who carried out the attack.

"Today, our enemies, the enemies of the Haitian people, are the terrorists who do not hesitate to use violence to kill people with all their might, or to kidnap, take away their freedom, to rape them," Henry said. "And do everything for money."

After the shooting, other Independence Day events in the area were cancelled. According to the U.S. Embassy in Haiti, the day commemorates the January 1, 1804, date when Haiti declared independence from France and became the first country in the West to abolish slavery. January 1 and 2 are meant to celebrate Independence Day and Ancestors' Day in the country.

Ariel Henry, Haiti, Prime Minister
Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry survived an assassination attempt on Saturday at a mass celebrating the country's Independence Day in the Haitian city of Gonaïves. Above, Henry speaks during the new cabinet inauguration at the prime minister's residence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on November 24. Photo by Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP via Getty Images

The incident is a fresh blow to Henry's fragile interim regime that is struggling with deepening poverty and a surge in gang violence as it seeks to create a coalition to help run the country after the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, with general elections scheduled for mid-2022.

Henry thanked the bishop of Gonaïves in a tweet for having held the mass "despite the tense situation that was prevailing in the city."

In 2020, Moïse skipped the trip to Gonaïves amid threats of violent protests.

Henry has pledged to crack down on gangs that authorities have blamed for a spike in kidnappings and for blocking gas distribution terminals in a move that caused a severe fuel shortage in recent months and prompted the U.S. and Canada to urge its citizens to leave Haiti.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.