17 American and Canadian missionaries kidnapped by gang members in Haiti

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“We are looking for God’s direction for a resolution, and the authorities are looking for ways to help,” they said.

An investigation is underway, according to a source from the Haitian security forces, who attributed the kidnapping to members of local gangs. Haitian officials are in contact with the US State Department over the kidnapping, the country’s Foreign Minister Claude Joseph told CNN.

The missionaries were traveling by vehicle to Titanyen, north of the capital Port-au-Prince, on Saturday, after visiting an orphanage in the Croix des Bouquets region. They were abducted along the road between the two locations.

Dan Hooley, former field director for Christian Aid Ministries in Haiti, told CNN on Sunday that all the kidnapped missionaries would have been in one vehicle and some were able to contact the organization’s local director before being taken away.

The kidnappers have already contacted the organization, he also said.

“A few guys messaged the director right away and told him what was going on. And one of them managed to drop a pin, and that’s the last thing. [the organization] heard until the kidnappers contacted them later that day, ”Hooley said.

One of the kidnapped missionaries, a U.S. citizen, also posted a call for help in a WhatsApp group as the kidnapping occurred, The Washington Post reported, citing a person familiar with the kidnapping who spoke under on condition of anonymity.

“Please pray for us !! We are being held hostage, they kidnapped our driver. Pray, pray pray. We don’t know where they are taking us,” the message read.

It is not clear whether the message was a video or a text sent to the WhatsApp group, and there is no information about the WhatsApp group itself in the Washington Post reports.

CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of this message or report.

A spokesperson for the US State Department said on Saturday evening that he was aware of the information and that “the well-being and safety of American citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the Department of State. ‘State”.

According to a senior US official familiar with the situation, FBI and State Department officials are working tirelessly to secure the release of the Americans, but do not yet know the current location of the kidnapped missionaries.

Canadian officials are also working with local authorities and “NGOs involved” to gather information, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told CNN.

CNN has contacted the Haitian justice ministry and the national police, but they have not yet commented.

“They knew the dangers in which they found themselves”

Kidnappings have increased in Haiti throughout 2021, with an increase of nearly 300% since July.

At least 628 kidnappings have taken place since January, including 29 of foreigners, according to data released earlier this month by the Human Rights Analysis and Research Center (CARDH), a non-profit organization. lucrative business based in Port-au-Prince.

The increase in kidnappings in Haiti is largely due to the 400 Mawozo gang, which controls much of Croix des Bouquets and even taxes local businesses, according to CARDH.

The gang, once known for auto theft, pioneered “mass” kidnappings of large groups of victims from buses and cars, according to the report. 400 Mawozo typically demands ransoms of around $ 20,000, he also says.

While the Christian Aid Ministries community is in shock at the news, Hooley said its members in Haiti would have been aware of the risks they were taking.

“They are very dedicated people, people who risked their lives, they knew the dangers they were in, or at least were aware of what could happen, I’m sure,” he said. .

He knows several of the victims personally, he also said. “Two of them are single. One was there for a while, the other is a friend of ours who just arrived on Friday and was planning to help with the earthquake in Haiti, the situation there in the south. “

“And then there’s a young couple there – a young couple with two children who were also abducted. We lived with her (the mother) in Oregon and knew her family very well,” Hooley said.

Fear stalks Haitians as their assassinated president is buried and gangs terrorize the capital

Kidnappings in Haiti are often indiscriminate, even the poor being targeted. Several kidnapping victims and their families have previously told CNN that they are still working to pay off their debts, having borrowed money from friends, employers and even banks to pay ransoms.

In a case that became notorious across the country even amid this year’s hundreds of kidnappings, a 5-year-old girl was reportedly found dead earlier this year with signs of strangulation. Her mother, a peanut seller, told Reuters that she had not been able to find the equivalent of $ 4,000 in ransom.

Just before the kidnapping of the missionaries, a Haitian transport union called for an indefinite strike from Monday to protest, among other things, against the surge in kidnappings.

“We call on the government to end the kidnappings and ensure our safety or they resign immediately. We are the most victims; the transport sector is an easy target for kidnappers across the country, ”Méhu Changeux, president of the Association of Owners and Drivers of Haiti, told CNN on Sunday.

“We have lost many members to the insecurity and dozens of members have been kidnapped. The latest tragedy in the kidnapping of American missionaries shows that no one is safe in this country,” Changeux said.

Eventful year

On Friday, the UN Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN mission in Haiti by nine months, until July 15, 2022.

At the UNSC meeting on Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, “As we all know, the past year has been particularly eventful in Haiti. By renewing the mandate of BINUH (the UN mission in Haiti), we have helped ensure that the UN can continue its vital efforts to support democratic institutions and election planning, strengthen the rule of law and promote stability. “

Haitian Foreign Minister Claude Joseph urged the Security Council earlier this month to strengthen the mandate of the UN mission to help ensure the safety and protection of civilians, according to a statement UN press release.

“These are the legitimate expectations of people who have suffered enough from gang violence, kidnappings and rampant crime,” Joseph said.

Caitlin Hu of CNN in New York contributed to this report.


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