A criminal gang that kidnapped several priests in Haiti earlier this year is thought to be the group holding 17 North American Christian missionaries and their families.
Haitian police say that the “400 Mawozo” gang is responsible for the kidnapping of members of Christian Aid Ministries. The 17 were abducted while visiting an orphanage outside the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Christian Aid Ministries, in a statement, said the group includes five men, seven women, and five children. Most of those captured are U.S. citizens, while one is Canadian.
The organization, based in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, asked for prayers for a “resolution.”
“Join us in praying for those who are being held hostage, the kidnappers, and the families, friends, and churches of those affected. Pray for those who are seeking God’s direction and making decisions regarding this matter,” Christian Aid Ministries said. “As an organization, we commit this situation to God and trust Him to see us through.”
Christian Aid Ministries is a “channel for Amish, Mennonite, and other conservative Anabaptist groups and individuals” to provide aid to those in need around the world, its website says. It supports aid and anti-poverty efforts in countries such as Haiti and Kazakhstan.
The kidnapping has brought more attention to a problem that has plagued Haiti for some time. Even before the weekend’s incident, Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, noted the worsening security situation in the Caribbean nation.
In a statement at the United Nations Security Council Arria Formula Meeting on Haiti last week, Archbishop Caccia noted “widespread civil unrest” in Haiti, where “kidnappings have become commonplace, and gang violence is so pervasive that humanitarian actors are impeded from carrying out their vital work.
“Frequently these have included missionaries and personnel of faith-based organizations,” the archbishop said.
Ten Catholic priests and religious were abducted in the town of Croix-des-Bouquets in April. 400 Mazowo demanded a $1 million ransom. They were eventually let go, but it was unclear if the ransom had been paid.
Widlore Mérancourt, editor in chief of the AyiboPost and a Washington Post contributor, told National Public Radio that kidnappings in Haiti are usually conducted by 400 Mawozo. He said that the problem is getting worse.
400 Mawozo is known for mass kidnappings in which they take groups of people from cars and buses, NPR said. “According to the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Port-au-Prince, a group that monitors kidnapping in the country, 400 Mawozo is responsible for 80% of kidnappings in Haiti,” the radio network reported. The Center also said that between January and September of this year, there have been 628 people reported kidnapped, including 29 foreigners.
“The wave of kidnapping we are seeing in Haiti right now is the worst in the history of the country,” Mérancourt told NPR. “It’s a very dire situation. … Kids, children are being kidnapped. Women are being kidnapped. Practically everybody. You see police officers being kidnapped. You see small merchants on the street being kidnapped.”
Amy Wilentz, a Haiti expert at the University of California at Irvine, told the New York Times that Americans who go to Haiti to help after a catastrophe, such as the 7.2 earthquake in August, are generally seen by gangs as “luxury targets” because of the high value of ransoms they are believed to deliver.