Twelve adults and five children with a U.S.-based missionary organization were seized over the weekend by a gang known for homicides, kidnappings, and extortion. US officials are working with Haitian authorities to attempt to obtain the release of the 12 adults and five children.
The 400 Mawozo gang, which controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area east of the capital of Port-au-Prince, kidnapped the group, according to police inspector Frantz Champagne. The kidnapping took place on Saturday in the Ganthier village, which is in the gang’s territory. It was blamed earlier this year for the abduction of five priests and two nuns.
Local unions and other organizations are planning a walkout Monday to protest Haiti’s growing lack of security, as authorities seek the release of the 16 Americans and one Canadian with the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries.
After President Jovenel Mose was fatally murdered at his private house on July 7 and a magnitude 7.2 earthquake killed more than 2,200 people in August, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation is now again dealing with a surge in gang-related kidnappings that had subsided in previous months.
“Everyone is apprehensive. “They’re snatching people from all walks of life,” said Méhu Changeux, head of Haiti’s Association of Owners and Drivers, on the radio station Magik9.
He stated that the work stoppage would continue until the government could ensure the safety of the citizens.
The missionaries were kidnapped just days after high-ranking US officials visited Haiti and promised more resources for the Haitian National Police, including another $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which has displaced thousands of Haitians this year and forced them to live in increasingly unsanitary temporary shelters.
The US State Department said on Sunday that it was in frequent communication with senior Haitian officials and will continue to collaborate with them and other interagency partners.
“One of the greatest priorities of the Department of State is the health and safety of American citizens overseas,” the department stated in a statement.
Seven women, five men, and five children, including a 2-year-old, were kidnapped, according to Christian Aid Ministries. They were taken while on a trip to see an orphanage, according to the group.
In a statement, Christian Aid Ministries said, “Join us in prayer for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those impacted.” “As a group, we’ve given this issue to God and are trusting him to see us through.”
Christian Aid Ministries’ annual report from last year stated that its American workers had returned to their base in Haiti after a nine-month absence “due to political turmoil,” noting the “uncertainty and challenges” that such instability brings.
Wilson Joseph, the accused head of the 400 Mawozo gang, was wanted by Haitian police over a year ago on accusations of murder, attempted murder, abduction, auto theft, and hijacking of goods-carrying trucks. He goes by the moniker “Lanm Sanjou,” which translates to “death doesn’t know when it’ll come.”
According to police, gangs have sought ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $1 million in response to the increase in kidnappings. They have even killed people who have been kidnapped.
According to a study released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, at least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haiti’s National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to 234 in all of 2020.
As gangs become more strong, they have been accused of kidnapping kids, physicians, police officers, busloads of people, and others. A guy claiming to be the head of 400 Mawozo informed a radio station in April that the group was responsible for the kidnappings of five priests, two nuns, and three relatives of one of the priests that month. They were eventually freed.
Kidnappings and gang-related violence have increased, forcing Haitians to take diversions through gang-controlled areas, while others choose to stay at home, resulting in less money for people like Charles Pierre, a moto taxi driver in Port-au-Prince with several children to feed.
He stated, “People are not going out on the streets.” “We are unable to transfer anyone.”