Haitian criminal gang, known as ‘400 Mowazo’ is demanding a total of $17 million from the government as ransom to free $17 million missionaries who were kidnapped this week.
Seventeen (17) American and Canadian missionaries were kidnapped over the weekend, a Caribbean security forces source told CNN.
The “400 Mawozo” gang abducted a group of 16 Americans and 1 Canadian missionary while visiting an orphanage in Croix des Bouquets, a suburb in the northeast of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince on Saturday.
Sources said the missionaries were “travelling from the orphanage towards Titanyen, north of Port-au-Prince,” when the gang members stopped their vehicle “at gunpoint”.
CNN reported that “the 400 Mawozo gangs has been growing in strength for the past three years, numbering up to 150 members, and has essentially taken control of Croix des Bouquets”.
The Humanitarian Times learnt abducting persons for ransom is a major signature pastime of the gang who have kidnapped dozens of people this year alone, including foreign citizens.
The ‘400 Mawozo’ was once known for car snatching before they later shifted interest to “collective” kidnappings of large groups of victims from buses and cars, according.
The gang’s major victims are Haitians, and last September reports indicated that they have abducted many buses and trucks drivers.
Reports said the gang have so far carried out 628 kidnappings since January, and their victims include 29 foreigners The gang is known for asking for a ransom of about $20,000 for each abducted. The demand for $1 million is the latest hike in the ransom-taking business.
The US State Department confirmed Monday that 16 US citizens were among the 17 individuals abducted.
“The welfare and safety of US citizens abroad are 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.
Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries released a statement on Sunday confirming the kidnapping of the missionaries and said the abducted group was made up of five men, seven women and five children.
“We are seeking God’s direction for a resolution, and authorities are seeking ways to help,” the statement said.
Dan Hooley, a former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on 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.
The kidnappers have also already made contact with the organization, he said.
“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.
Haitian officials are in touch with the US State Department about the kidnapping, the country’s foreign minister, Claude Joseph, told CNN.
One of the abducted missionaries, an American citizen, also posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping was occurring, The Washington Post reported, quoting a person familiar with the abduction who spoke on the condition of anonymity.