Who is 400 Mawozo, the Haitian gang accused of kidnapping American missionaries?

Haitians take part in a protest in Port-au-Prince on Dec. 10, 2020, International Human Rights Day, amid an upsurge in kidnappings perpetrated by gangs in the country. (Valerie Baeriswyl/AFP/Getty Images)

News that an armed Haitian gang kidnapped 17 members of an Ohio-based missionary group — including five children — on Oct. 16 placed Haiti at the center of an international crisis.

The remaining members of the kidnapped group were released Dec. 16. But for Haitians rich and poor, gang violence and kidnappings for ransom have become a tragically common part of life.

Abductions by the busload: Haitians are being held hostage by a surge in kidnappings

Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, holds the grim record of the world’s highest kidnapping rate per capita. One gang — 400 Mawozo — was responsible for 80 percent of abductions in Haiti from June through September, according to Gédéon Jean, director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince.

Haitian officials say the group is behind the October kidnapping, too.

Liszt Quitel, Haiti’s justice minister, told The Washington Post that the gang was demanding a ransom of $1 million per hostage.

Quitel said that it wasn’t clear whether the five children, including an 8-month-old, were part of the ransom amount, and that the gang was probably expecting to negotiate. “Usually they request more, then people close to the kidnapped persons will negotiate,” Quitel said.

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State,” an agency spokesperson said in October, confirming that 16 U.S. citizens had been kidnapped. “We have been in regular contact with senior Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and interagency partners.” (One of those kidnapped is a Canadian.)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said after the kidnapping that President Biden was receiving “regular updates” on the efforts of the State Department and FBI to secure the release of the hostages. Meanwhile, unions in Haiti launched a general strike in October to protest the nation’s worsening security situation.

Here’s what to know about 400 Mawozo and Haiti’s gang violence.

American missionaries and family members kidnapped in Haiti by ‘400 Mawozo’ gang, groups say

Members of Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries, including 16 Americans and one Canadian, were kidnapped in Haiti on Oct. 17 near Port-au-Prince. (Video: Reuters)