According to a senior Haitian official, a gang responsible for kidnapping a group of American and Canadian missionaries is demanding $17 million – or $1 million each missionary – in exchange for their release.
Missionaries were kidnapped outside the capital, Port-au-Prince, over the weekend by a group known as 400 Mawozo, according to Justice Minister Liszt Quitel, who told Reuters that negotiations were underway with the kidnappers to secure their release.
The ransom price was verified by the minister, who told Reuters: “They demanded $1 million per individual in cash.” The Wall Street Journal was the first to disclose the charge, which was earlier in the day.
According to a CNN storey published earlier on Tuesday, the kidnappers initially contacted Christian Aid Ministries – the organisation to which the victims belonged – on Saturday and promptly informed them of the amount they would have to pay to free the missionaries. According to the minister, the FBI and Haitian police were assisting the group in their talks.
Since the missionary group’s abduction, the kidnappers and the missionary group have spoken by phone, according to the minister, who spoke to CNN.
Christian Aid Ministries, headquartered in Ohio, asked for prayers for the “Haitian and American civil authorities who are trying to settle this issue,” according to the organisation.
According to the missionary group, five children, including an 8-month-old infant, are among the 16 Americans and one Canadian who have arrived. They were kidnapped in a neighbourhood known as Croix-des-Bouquets, which is approximately 8 miles (13 kilometres) outside of the city and is controlled by the 400 Mawozo gang.
Secretaries of State Antony Blinken and John Kerry told journalists in Quito, Ecuador, that the United States government is “relentlessly focused” on the kidnapping and that it is in constant communication with Haitian authorities and the missionaries’ church. Blinken also met with Ecuador’s president and foreign minister.
The security situation in Port-au-Prince, Blinken said, “is just simply unsustainable.” He was alluding to gangs that he claims dominate sections of the city.
The FBI said on Monday that it is assisting the United States government in bringing the Americans involved to safety.
Five priests and two nuns, including two French nationals, were kidnapped near Croix-des-Bouquets, France, in April and freed later that month. The abduction took place in April.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Quitel said that a ransom was paid in exchange for the release of two of the priests.
A report by the Haitian nonprofit Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH) found that kidnapping has become more brazen and commonplace in the country as a result of the country’s growing political and economic crisis, with at least 628 incidents reported in the first nine months of 2021 alone, according to the report.
Haitians went on a national strike on Monday to demonstrate their opposition to gang violence and kidnappings, which have been on the increase for years and have become worse since the murder of President Jovenel Moise was carried out in July.
Businesses in Port-au-Prince reopened their doors on Tuesday, and public transit services resumed service. Leaders in the transportation industry had advocated for the strike, in part because transit employees are often targeted by gangs for abduction.
Foreigners have been kidnapped in Haiti just a few times in the past.
The victims are often middle-class Haitians who cannot afford bodyguards, but who are able to raise money for a ransom by borrowing money from family members or selling property.
The escalating situation in Haiti has also emerged as a significant source of concern for the United States. Thousands of Haitian migrants arrived at the United States-Mexico border last month, but many were deported back to their home nation within days.