The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Haitian gang that claimed responsibility for abducting members of a U.S.-based missionary group is demanding $17 million for the missionaries’ release.
According to the Journal, Haitian Justice Minister Liszt Quitel says the gang, which calls itself 400 Mawozo, has set a ransom of $1 million for each of the 16 Americans and one Canadian kidnapped last Saturday outside the capital Port-au-Prince while working for the Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries. The Journal quotes Minister Quitel as saying the group includes five children, ranging in age from eight months to 15 years of age. He says they are being held in a safe house in a Port-au-Prince suburb.
Quitel says they are negotiating for release of the 17 missionaries without paying any ransom, telling the Journal that “when we give them that money, that money is going to be used for more guns and more munitions.” He says 400 Mawozo released five Catholic priests and two nuns they had kidnapped in April of this year after a ransom was paid for just two of the priests.
The White House said Monday the FBI is working to find the missionaries and deliver them to safety.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden was receiving regular updates on the efforts by the FBI and the State Department.
The State Department said Monday it had a small team on the ground working closely with Haitian authorities to find the missionaries.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. Embassy team is coordinating with Haiti's national police, the missionary group, family members of the victims, and the Canadian government.
The abduction of the missionaries reflects a kidnapping problem in Haiti that has plagued the nation for years but that has grown more prevalent in recent months.
Haitian workers went on strike Monday to protest the security situation in the country.
Streets in the capital were mostly quiet as workers stayed home to denounce the nation's lack of security.
Officials in Haiti's transportation industry, a sector whose workers are often kidnapping targets, initially called for a strike last week. Monday's strike, which other business groups joined, took on additional significance after the kidnapping of the missionaries.
Most businesses and schools were closed Monday, and public transportation came to a halt.
The Associated Press reported that protesters burned tires in Port-au-Prince and other cities, including Les Cayes in the south.
The United Nations said Monday that a recent surge in gang violence in Haiti, including kidnappings, is affecting relief operations.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said gang violence in the capital has displaced at least 19,000 people since June and affected more than 1.5 million people.
A U.N. report last month said at least 328 kidnappings were reported to Haitian police in the first eight months of 2021. That is up from 234 kidnappings in all of 2020.
In August, the United States issued a travel warning for Haiti, urging Americans not to visit the nation because of the kidnappings and crime.
Haiti's security situation has been hampered by the country's political crisis following the July assassination of President Jovenel Moise. The country is also suffering from an economic crisis and the aftermath of an August earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.