Kidnappers demand $17 million ransom

Americans are urged not to visit Haiti after a gang kidnapped 16 Americans there.


World News

October 20, 2021 - 10:13 AM

Locator map of Haiti where 17 missionaries are kidnapped.

WASHINGTON — The White House reiterated Tuesday its guidance to Americans not to visit Haiti, noting that a State Department warning against travel to the Caribbean nation is at its highest level as U.S. law enforcement grapples with a hostage crisis there involving 16 Americans.

Gang members who abducted the American missionaries and one Canadian national over the weekend outside of Port-au-Prince are demanding $1 million for the release of each hostage.

A Haitian government official said the gang 400 Mawozo made contact with the head of the missionaries’ Haiti mission on Saturday after their vehicle was hijacked at gunpoint in the area of La Tremblay east of the capital of Port-au-Prince. The source also added that Haiti’s cash-strapped government is not involved in any of the negotiations and is in no position to pay any ransom amount.

The request by the gang isn’t unusual. Kidnapping gangs in Haiti usually start by requesting high ransom amounts and negotiate down, often demanding payments in U.S. currency.

The abducted group worked for Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. The group said the ages of the adults being held captive range from 18 to 48, while the youngest victim is an 8-month-old baby. The remaining children are ages 3, 6, 13 and 15.

The group continued to request prayers, saying many people, including the charity’s management, and Haitian and U.S. authorities, “are working diligently to bring our loved ones home safely.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the Biden administration would decline to discuss details of the case until each American is freed and safe. But she said that longstanding U.S. policy against ransom payments has not changed.

“Kidnapping is widespread, and victims regularly include U.S. citizens,” Psaki said. “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.”

Saturday’s mass kidnapping has brought Haiti’s security crisis to a boil, with general strikes launched by the country’s transport sector and business community against surging crime there entering a second day Tuesday.

The FBI is leading the U.S. effort to free the hostages, and has a team on the ground in Haiti alongside State Department officials working toward their release with the Haitian National Police. They are in touch with the gang responsible.

The missionaries entered their third day in captivity Tuesday. They are part of the Mennonite community, and many recently arrived in Haiti. When they were kidnapped, the group was returning from a visit to an orphanage that receives support from Christian Aid Ministries.

“Before the kidnapping, their work throughout Haiti included supporting thousands of needy school children, distributing Bibles and Christian literature, supplying medicines for numerous clinics, teaching Haitian pastors, and providing food for the elderly and vulnerable,” Christian Aid Ministries said. “In recent months, they were actively involved in coordinating a rebuilding project for those who lost their homes in the August 2021 earthquake.”

Founded in 1981, Christian Aid Ministries is based in Millersburg, Ohio, and serves the Amish, Mennonite and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals, according to its website. The charity last year reported $87 million in assets.