A gang that kidnapped a group of US and Canadian missionaries in Haiti on Saturday is demanding a ransom of one million dollars (725,000 pounds) for each of the 17 people it holds, the Haitian justice minister told the Wall Street Journal.
The gang is known for kidnapping groups of people for ransom purposes.
The same gang, 400 Mazowo, kidnapped a group of Catholic clergy members in April.
The clergy were later released but it is unclear whether a ransom was paid.
Who are the victims?
All abductees are US citizens, except one who is a Canadian citizen.
Among those kidnapped are five men, seven women and five children. The youngest son is reportedly only two years old.
They worked for Christian Aids Ministries, a non-profit missionary organization based in the US state of Ohio, which provides Haitian children with shelter, food and clothing.
How were they kidnapped?
The missionaries were returning from a visit to an orphanage when the bus they were traveling on was hijacked by gang members on a main road in the town of Ganthier, east of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Ganthier is located in the Croix-des-Bouquets area, controlled by 400 Mazowo gangs.
The hijacking of vehicles and all their occupants to obtain a ransom is one of the main activities that the gang of 400 Mazowo uses to finance itself.
The Washington Post said one of the abductees posted a WhatsApp message asking for help.
“Please pray for us !! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,” he said.
What was the reaction?
The White House said on Monday that both the US State Department and the FBI are assisting Haitian authorities in the case.
A former field director of the Christian Aid Ministers in Haiti told CNN that the kidnappers had already made contact with the missionary organization.
Adam Ki zinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, told CNN he believed the United States should negotiate with the kidnappers, but not pay the ransom.
“We need to track where they are and see if negotiations – without paying a ransom – are possible,” he said. “Or do whatever we have to do, on a military or police front.”
In Haiti on Monday, local unions staged a strike to protest rising crime levels.
The strike closed operations in Port-au-Prince and other cities as public transport employees remained at home. In some areas, barricades have been set up to prevent workers from crossing the picket lines.
How widespread are kidnappings in Haiti?
Haiti has one of the highest kidnapping rates in the world.
This year was particularly bad, with more than 600 kidnappings recorded in the first three quarters of 2021, compared to 231 in the same period last year, according to a local civil society group.
The Catholic Church has previously described the situation as “a descent into hell”, with gangs taking people from all walks of life, both local and foreign.
The country was further thrown into chaos by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July, as rival factions battle to gain control of the country in the face of a struggling police force.
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