What we know about the 17 missionaries from kidnapped in Haiti by a notorious gang

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (NPR) — Seventeen people who traveled to Haiti for a Christian mission trip to build houses are being held hostage by one of the country’s most notorious gangs, 400 Mawazo.

The gang is asking for a $17 million ransom, or $1 million for each person in the group, according to reporting from The Wall Street Journal and CNN. Sixteen of those who were kidnapped on Saturday are U.S. citizens, and one is Canadian.

Here’s what else we know.

Armed forces secure the area where Haiti's prime minister, Ariel Henry, placed a bouquet of flowers in front of a memorial to independence hero Jean-Jacques
Armed forces secure the area where Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, placed a bouquet of flowers in front of a memorial to independence hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Sunday. Haitian police are working with U.S. officials and are in contact with the kidnappers who abducted a group of U.S.-based missionaries on Saturday. [Odelyn Joseph | AP]

The abductees include an 8-month-old and four other children

The group of 17 includes an 8-month-old infant and children who are 3, 6, 14 and 15 years old, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The group is from the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. On Monday, it posted an update on its website: “Civil authorities in Haiti and the United States are aware of what has happened and are offering assistance. We continue to monitor the situation closely and are in earnest prayer.”

The gang behind the kidnapping has a long record of killings

The 400 Mawazo gang involved with this kidnapping is the same group that kidnapped five priests, two nuns and three others in April; that group included two French citizens.

The Haitian gang is known to target larger groups that are traveling in vans or buses and is responsible for about 80% of abductions in the country, according to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, a group that monitors such crimes in the country.

The gang’s leader, Wilson Joseph, has been sought by police for charges of murder and attempted murder, kidnapping, auto theft and the hijacking of trucks, according to The Associated Press.

The kidnapping crisis in Haiti is the worst it has ever been. A U.N. Security Council report from last month showed 328 kidnapping victims were reported to police in the first eight months of 2021, compared with 234 during the entirety of 2020.

U.S. officials are getting involved and are in touch with the kidnappers

The FBI is now investigating the kidnapping, The Wall Street Journal reports. Officials are working with Haitian police and are in contact with the kidnappers.

“We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and interagency partners,” a State Department spokesperson said on Sunday.

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