Culture

Haitian Gangs Demand Ransom for 17 Kidnapped Missionaries

( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Missionaries risk their lives to spread the Gospel — often in dangerous places like Haiti. These families know the perils that they’re undertaking, and that hazard can include mortal danger.

That’s happening right now in Haiti, where a gang has kidnapped 16 American missionaries and one Canadian. The 400 Mawozo gang seized the missionaries on Saturday after the group visited an orphanage in suburban Port-au-Prince, and they are now demanding a ransom of $1 million each for the release of the missionaries.

The 400 Mawozo gang began terrorizing the suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets with car thefts, and they have graduated to kidnapping large groups, both local and foreign. According to local accounts, 400 Mawozo has all but taken over Croix-des-Bouquets, and they are responsible for most of the rise in kidnappings in Haiti.

Haiti’s Justice Minister Liszt Quitel said that the FBI and Haitian authorities have been in contact with the kidnappers and that 400 Mawozo is holding the group in a safe house not far from Croix-des-Bouquets. Both U.S. and Haitian authorities have been conducting negotiations with the gang.

Related: Haiti Gang Kidnaps 17 American Missionaries, Including Children

The missionaries belong to an Ohio-based organization called Christian Aid Ministries. The kidnapped group consists of five men, seven women, and five children.

CNN reports:

Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN Sunday that all of the kidnapped missionaries are believed to have been in one vehicle, and that some were able to contact the organization’s local director before they were taken.

“A couple of fellows right away messaged the director and told him what was going on. And one of them was able to drop a pin, and that’s the last thing (the organization) heard until the kidnappers contacted them later in the day,” Hooley said.

Typically, 400 Mawozo demands ransoms of around $20,000 for those they kidnap, but there’s no explanation for the exorbitant ransom in this particular case.

Kidnappings have become such an issue in Haiti that one transportation union called for a strike beginning this week to protest the rise in gang activity.

“We call on the government to put an end to the kidnappings and provide us safety or for them to resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transportation sector is an easy target for kidnappers all over the country,” Méhu Changeux, president of the Association of Owners and Drivers of Haiti, told CNN on Sunday.

“We lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy of the kidnapping of the American missionaries shows no one is safe in this country,” Changeux said.

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry canceled plans to lay a wreath at the grave of Revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines over the weekend because the graveyard lies in a gang-ruled area.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement on the kidnappings:

“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and inter-agency partners,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement Monday.

Over 600 kidnappings have taken place in Haiti since the beginning of 2021, but none of them have garnered as high a profile as this one. These missionaries deserve our prayers.