Police in Haiti blame notorious gang for missionary kidnapping

A notorious Haitian gang known for brazen kidnappings and killings has been accused by police of kidnapping 17 Christian missionaries, including five children, from a US-based organisation.

The 400 Mawozo gang snatched the group in Ganthier, east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated Press (AP) news agency on Sunday.

The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men,” controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area that includes Ganthier, where they carry out kidnappings and carjackings and extort business owners, according to authorities.

Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said the kidnapped group consisted of 16 US citizens and one Canadian national and included seven women and five men as well as the children. They were in a bus on their way to visit an orphanage when they were abducted, it added.

“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the organisation said in a statement.

Haiti has seen a spike in kidnappings following the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July as armed gangs take advantage of spreading insecurity and a political crisis aggravated by Moise’s assassination.Those affected generally come from the Haitian middle class – teachers, priests, civil servants, small business owners – who can scrape together a ransom. Gangs have demanded ransoms ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to more than $1m, according to authorities.

Civil society groups on Sunday called for the missionaries’ immediate release. The youngest child is just two years old.

“We call for the liberation of the persons kidnapped, whether American citizens or of other nationalities,” Gedeon Jean, the director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, based in the capital Port-au-Prince told the AFP news agency. He said the current situation was “detrimental to human dignity”.

The US State Department said it was aware of the reports. US embassies do not typically release information about citizens due to privacy regulations. A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the United States was in touch with Haitian authorities to try and resolve the case.

The Canadian government said it was working with local authorities and groups to gather more information.

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While attacks on foreigners are relatively rare, 400 Mawozo is suspected of being involved in the April kidnapping in the same area of a group of priests and nuns that included French citizens.

Among its activities in Haiti, Christian Aid Ministries runs a medical clinic, helps orphans and holds Bible readings.

Its annual report for last year said that American staff had returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence “due to political unrest” and noted “uncertainty and difficulties” arising from such instability.

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