A group of as many as 17 U.S. Christian missionaries, including several children, were kidnapped by a gang in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince on Saturday. Although there are still few details on what actually happened, authorities said it looks like the gang members kidnapped the missionaries when they were on a bus leaving an orphanage and on their way to the airport to drop off a few members of the group, reports the New York Times. CNN, which says the group consisted of 14 adults and three minors, reports the missionaries were traveling to Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince, after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets area. It’s unclear whether all of the people kidnapped are U.S. citizens amid reports that one Canadian citizen and two Haitians may have been part of the group.
The group of missionaries had been building an orphanage in Haiti, according to a message from Christian Aid Ministries, which is based in Ohio. “This is a special prayer alert,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a one-minute message. “Pray that the gang members would come to repentance.” The message details that “men, women, and children” associated with the group were being held by gang members. The message goes on to say that the mission’s field director is working with the U.S. Embassy to try to resolve the situation. One of the missionaries who was abducted posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group while the kidnapping was taking place, reports the Washington Post. “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,” the message read.
Organizations that monitor the all-too-frequent kidnappings in Haiti said that the missionaries were taken by a gang known as the 400 Mawozo, reports the Washington Post, which characterizes the group as a “much-feared gang.” The group is known for targeting religious groups and has increasingly been carrying out mass kidnappings. “The modus operandi is they take entire car and buses,” Gédéon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, tells the Washington Post. “Then they ask for a price to release everybody.”
The State Department said it is “aware” of the reports of the kidnapping but doesn’t have more information to add. “The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” a spokesperson said.
The kidnapping took place at a time when violence has engulfed Haiti amid a deterioration of the country’s security situation that has worsened since the assassination in July of President Jovenel Moïse. Kidnappings dropped briefly after the assassination but later surged again in the country that has the highest per-capita kidnapping rate in the world and continues to suffer the effects of the devastating August earthquake that killed more than 2,200 people. In the first eight months of 2021 at least 328 people were reported to have been kidnapped, compared with 234 for all of last year, according to a report issued last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti.