Haiti gang seeks $17 million ransom for releasing kidnapped U.S. missionaries

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The notorious Haitian street gang ‘400 Mawozo’ is demanding a $17 million ransom for the return of the missionaries that they have held captive. The 17 hostages, which includes 16 Americans and one Canadian, were abducted in an ambush on Saturday, the 16th of October. The missionaries, a part of the Christian Aid Ministries, were returning from a trip to a local orphanage when they were kidnapped.

The ‘400 Mawozo’ gang has an infamous history of attacking churches and religious organizations. The Haitian Justice Minister released a statement of the gang’s ransom demand on Tuesday, the 19th of October. Among the 17 American and Canadian hostages are five children, including an 8-month-old baby, stated the missionary organization. They were abducted from Croix-des-Bouquets, about 8 miles on the exterior of the capital, which is under the control of the ‘400 Mawozo’ gang.

The identity of the hostages has not been released owing to security and privacy concerns. The White House has released a statement about the unfolding crisis through its spokeswoman Jen Psaki. She shared that President Biden is currently receiving real-time updates from the FBI as negotiations continue. Psaki also added that gangs like these are known to the authorities, as they primarily focus on American citizens when they launch their attacks. “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 said.

The Haitian gang has reportedly demanded $1 million for each of those kidnapped. “I swear by thunder that if I don’t receive what I’m asking for, I will shoot a bullet in the heads of these Americans,” said Wilson Joseph, the gang leader, in a video posted on social media on Thursday.

Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesperson, shared that a clear line of communication is currently being kept open between American officials, Haiti’s National Police, and the hostage-takers. News of the kidnapping comes after the release of disturbing figures relating to abductions within the Caribbean country. The first eight months of 2021 have seen at least 328 kidnappings reported to Haiti’s National Police, as shared by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.

The rising crisis in Haiti has become a significant concern for the United States, and the situation has worsened since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Thousands of Haitian migrants showed up at the U.S.-Mexico border last month, but most were deported back to their country shortly later. 

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