Three more of the 17 missionaries who were kidnapped by a notorious street gang in Haiti in October have been released, Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said Monday.
“Please continue to intercede for those who are still being held as well as those who have been released,” Christian Aid Ministries said Monday. “We long for all the hostages to be reunited with their loved ones.”
The organization said it could not provide the identities of the people who were released, the reasons for their release or any other details. The missionaries, who were kidnapped outside Port-au-Prince by the 400 Mawozo gang as they were returning from a visit to an orphanage roughly 90 minutes from their base on Oct. 16, included 16 Americans and one Canadian. The captives included five children, the youngest of whom was 8 months old.
“Our staff valued opportunities like this to visit Haitian homes, clinics, schools and orphanages that we help to support,” Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement last week. “Little did they know that, on this beautiful day, they would begin a difficult journey of being held hostage by a Haitian gang.”
400 Mawozo has demanded $1 million for the return of each victim. The gang’s leader has threatened to “put a bullet” in them if the demand isn’t met. It is unclear whether a ransom was paid for any of the five hostages who’ve since been released. The U.S. and Canadian governments have said that they do not pay ransoms for kidnapped citizens.
State Department officials and the FBI have been on the ground in Haiti, working to secure the release of the hostages.
Haiti has been overwhelmed in recent months by a terrifying wave of mass kidnappings by armed gangs that control large sections of the capital. In October, gangs blocked the distribution of fuel, leading to severe shortages that impacted hospitals and set off nationwide strikes that paralyzed the country.
The Caribbean nation has the world’s highest rate of kidnappings per capita.
400 Mawozo has grown notorious for its targeting of religious groups previously considered off-limits. Haitians of all ages and from all walks of life have been kidnapped. The abduction of this group of foreigners drew attention to the country’s worsening insecurity, which could have regional implications.
U.S. and Canadian officials have urged their citizens to consider leaving Haiti. Canada temporarily withdrew nonessential Canadian employees and their family members from its embassy in Port-au-Prince last month.
The gangs have expanded their footprint amid a security and political vacuum that was exacerbated by the still-unsolved assassination in July of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, which has left the country’s government fragile and bitterly divided.