The Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 foreign missionaries who were visiting an orphanage on Saturday is demanding a $17 million ransom for their release, a top Haitian official told CNN.
The abducted missionaries, who are associated with non-profit organization Christian Aid Ministries, include 16 Americans and a Canadian. The youngest among them is a two-year-old. The rest are seven women, five men and four other children. And the infamous “400 Mawozo” gang is reportedly suspected to be behind their abduction.
The gang has in the past demanded ransom payments of over $1 million. The group is also said to have killed and raped some of its abducted victims. And though Gèdèon Jean, the executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research for Human Rights, told The New York Times he believes the missionaries will ultimately be freed, he suggested the gang will demand $1 million for each hostage.
“The motive behind the surge in kidnappings for us is a financial one,” he said. “The gangs need money to buy ammunition, to get weapons, to be able to function.”
“The 400 Mawozo gang don’t want to kill the hostages … They are going to be freed — that’s for sure,” he added. “We don’t know in how many days, but they’re going to negotiate.”
Last year, the gang kidnapped five priests and two nuns. The victims were eventually freed although it’s unknown if a ransom was paid. The gang had demanded $1 million. “That was the big sign they can do what they want,” Timothy Schwartz, a consultant based in Haiti, told The New York Times.
“Now they’re taking the next step with the Americans,” he added.
Joel Trimble, who has been working as an independent Christian missionary in Haiti for decades, also said it didn’t make sense for the kidnapped missionaries to move around in an area known to be very dangerous.
“To take a vehicle this size with that many white American missionaries and travel anywhere in Port-au-Prince, especially in that area, it was very unwise,” Trimble said. “Kidnapping is quick money, and when they see a van full of white people, that is major dollar signs.”
A report last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti stated the Caribbean nation’s National Police received at least 328 kidnapping reports between January and August, New York Post reported. 234 kidnapping cases were reported in 2020.
Meanwhile, the US State Department said it is aware of the reported kidnappings. The department also said it is currently communicating with senior Haitian officials. “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” the department said.