Officials said over the weekend that 16 US citizens and a Canadian were abducted by a powerful “400 Mavojo” gang on Saturday after visiting an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, a northeastern suburb of the capital Port-au-Prince.
Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said on Monday that the missionaries were being held in a safe house just outside the suburb by the gang, which has demanded a total of US$17 million for the group’s release, the WSJ reported.
The FBI and Haitian police are in contact with the kidnappers, saying talks could take weeks, Quitel told the WSJ.
The kidnapped missionaries are affiliated with Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, which confirmed the kidnapping in a statement on Sunday, saying the kidnapped group was made up of five men, seven women and five children.
Quittel told the WSJ that the five children who were abducted included an 8-month-old and minors aged 3, 6, 14 and 15.
Dan Hole, a former field director of Christian aid ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that all the kidnapped missionaries are believed to have been in a vehicle, and that some people were asked to contact the organization’s local director before being taken. were able to.
“Some accomplices immediately messaged the director and explained what was happening. And one of them was able to drop the pin, and it was the last thing[the organization]heard until the kidnappers contacted them earlier in the day,” Huley he said.
His abduction is part of a wave of indiscriminate kidnappings that have become more brazen as the country is suffering From political instability, civil unrest, lack of quality health care and severe poverty.
Just before the kidnapping of the missionaries, the Haitian Transport Association called for an indefinite strike from Monday to protest the rise in kidnappings, among other issues.
A State Department spokesperson said, “The welfare and safety of American citizens abroad is one of the State Department’s top priorities. We are in regular contact with senior Haitian officials and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners.” ” in a statement on Monday.
‘Gangs have captured’
According to the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights (CARDH), a Port-au-Prince-based nonprofit, most of the increase in kidnappings in Haiti is attributable to 400 mawzos.
Gang members engage in almost daily confrontations with Haitian police and tax local businesses.
Haiti’s security forces source told CNN on Sunday that the 400 Mavozo has been growing in strength for the past three years, with 150 members, and has essentially taken control of the Croix des Bouquets.
Kidnapping for ransom is the hallmark of the gang. The source said they have kidnapped dozens of people this year alone, including foreign nationals.
Once infamous for car thefts, 400 mawjo have pioneered “mass” kidnappings of large groups of victims from buses and cars, according to CARDH.
CARDH said most of the gang’s victims are Haitian citizens and kidnappings have increased in Haiti this year – with an increase of nearly 300% since July.
According to data released by the Centre, there have been at least 628 kidnappings, including 29 foreigners, since January. 400 mawjo typically demanded a ransom of around $20,000, it said.
Hule said members of the missionary group would be aware of the risks they were taking.
“These are very dedicated people who risked their lives, they knew the dangers they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen, I’m sure,” he said.
In a 2020 blog post, a Christian aid ministry missionary in Haiti described the risks they faced working there. The missionary wrote of how the organization’s home base in Titanian, a village north of Port-au-Prince, was threatened by a local gang.
He wrote, “With all the political uncertainty in Haiti, gangs have taken over. Gangs fighting each other rapidly break up quiet nights with gunfire.”
The blog post did not specify which gang was responsible, nor is it clear who wrote the post. But the founders of the blog are a pair of missionaries who were in Haiti for many years.
In the post, the author writes that the missionary eventually “began working with the gang trying to resolve the dire situation.”
The author wrote, “After much negotiation, they agreed to dismantle their gang mentality and try to find a way to help the community instead of terrorizing it. Soon they find themselves on the side of a road passing through the city. agreed to work on the reconstruction.”