Haiti gang seeks $1 million each for kidnapped missionaries

Sixteen of the abductees are Americans and one Canadian. They served with Christian Aid Ministries out of Ohio

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National News

October 19, 2021 - 2:21 PM

A boy takes a drink of water near a burning pile of trash inside a tent camp on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after its 7.0 earthquake in 2010. Haiti has been ravaged by earthquakes, hurricanes and political upheaval the past 20 years. (Brian Vander Brug/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — A gang that kidnapped 17 members of a U.S.-based missionary group is demanding $1 million ransom per person, although authorities are not clear whether that includes the five children being held, a top Haitian official told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The official, who wasn’t authorized to speak to the press, said someone from the 400 Mawozo gang called a ministry leader shortly after kidnapping the missionaries on Saturday and demanded the ransom. A person in contact with the organization, Christian Aid Ministries, also confirmed the $1 million per person demand, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. That source spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation.

The ages of the adults being held captive range from 18 to 48, while the children are 8 months, 3 years, 6 years, 13 years and 15 years, according to a statement from the organization on Tuesday. Sixteen of the abductees are Americans and one Canadian.

“This group of workers has been committed to minister throughout poverty-stricken Haiti,” the Ohio-based ministry said, adding that the missionaries were most recently working on a rebuilding project to help those who lost their homes in the magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck on Aug. 14.

The group was returning from visiting an orphanage when they were abducted, the organization said.

A recent wave of kidnappings prompted a protest strike that shuttered businesses, schools and public transportation starting Monday in a new blow to Haiti’s anemic economy. Unions and other groups vowed to continue the shutdown indefinitely as an ongoing fuel shortage worsened, with businesses blaming gangs for blocking roads and gas distribution terminals.

On Tuesday, hundreds of motorcycles zoomed through the streets of Port-au-Prince as the drivers yelled, “If there’s no fuel, we’re going to burn it all down!”

One protest took place near the prime minister’s residence, where police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd that demanded fuel.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “the FBI is a part of a coordinated U.S. government effort to get the U.S. citizens involved to safety,” with the American Embassy in Port au Prince coordinating with local officials and families of those seized.

“Kidnapping is widespread and victims regularly include US citizens. We know these groups target U.S. citizens who they assume have the resources and finances to pay ransoms, even if that is not the case,” she added, noting that the government has urged citizens not to visit Haiti.

She confirmed it is U.S. policy not to negotiate with those holding hostages, but declined to describe details of the operation.

The kidnapping was the largest reported of its kind in recent years, with Haitian gangs growing more brazen and abductions spiking as the country tries to recover from the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and the earthquake that hit southern Haiti and killed more than 2,200 people.

“We are calling on authorities to take action,” said Jean-Louis Abaki, a moto taxi driver who joined the strike Monday to decry killings and kidnappings in the hemisphere’s poorest nation.

With the usually chaotic streets of Haiti’s capital quiet and largely empty, Abaki said that if Prime Minister Ariel Henry and National Police Chief Léon Charles want to stay in power, “they have to give the population a chance at security.”

Haitian police told The Associated Press that the abduction was carried out by the 400 Mawozo gang, which has a long record of killings, kidnappings and extortion. In April, a man who claimed to be the gang’s leader told a radio station that it was responsible for abducting five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. They were later released.

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