17 American missionaries kidnapped by a gang in Haiti, according to a religious group

A sector of the Jalousie district, commune of Pétion Ville in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, is seen on March 14, 2016. (Photo credit: HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)

A gang accused of kidnapping five priests and two nuns earlier this year in Haiti is now accused of kidnapping 17 missionaries from a US-based organization, including a 2-year-old child, police said Sunday.

The 400 Mawozo gang abducted the group – which also included elderly people – in Ganthier, a commune east of the capital Port-au-Prince, Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne told The Associated. Press.

The gang, whose name roughly translates to 400 “inexperienced men”, controls the Croix-des-Bouquets area which includes Ganthier, where they carry out kidnappings and carjackings and extort business owners, according to the authorities.

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Haiti is again grappling with a spike in gang-related kidnappings that has declined in recent months, after President Jovenel Moïse was shot and killed in his private residence on July 7 and a magnitude 7 earthquake .2 killed more than 2,200 people in August.

Nearly a year ago, Haitian police released a wanted poster for the gang’s alleged leader, Wilson Joseph, on charges of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, car theft and hijacking of trucks carrying goods. He has the nickname “Lanmò Sanjou”, which means “death does not know what day it is coming”.

Joseph, who could not immediately be reached for comment, posted videos detailing alleged crimes the gang has committed in recent years.

Once, when the gang opened fire on a small bus carrying several passengers and killed a baby, Wilson said it was not their fault because the bus driver refused to stop. In a more recent video, he appears holding a bottle of alcohol surrounded by heavily armed men. Another video from June shows people inside a church fleeing as gunfire erupted outside on a Saturday morning. The gang was accused of raiding the area and setting cars on fire.

The missionaries were returning home Saturday after building an orphanage, according to a message from Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries sent to various religious missions.

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“This is a special prayer alert,” the one-minute post read. “Pray for gang members to come to repentance.”

The message states that the field director of the mission works with the US Embassy and that the family of the field director and another unidentified man stayed at the ministry base while everyone else visited the orphanage. .

A US government spokesman said officials were aware of the reports of the abduction.

“The well-being and safety of American citizens abroad is one of the State Department’s highest priorities,” the spokesperson said, declining to comment further.

Meanwhile, a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was in contact with Haitian authorities to try to resolve the matter.

The gangs demanded ransoms ranging from a few hundred dollars to more than $1 million, authorities said.

Last month, a deacon was killed outside a church in the capital Port-au-Prince and his wife abducted, one of dozens who have been abducted in recent months.

At least 328 kidnappings were reported to the Haitian National Police in the first eight months of 2021, compared to a total of 234 for all of 2020, according to a report released last month by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH.

The gangs have been accused of kidnapping schoolchildren, doctors, police, busloads of passengers and others as they grew more powerful. In April, a man who claimed to be the 400 Mawozo gang leader told a radio station that they were responsible for the kidnapping of five priests, two nuns and three relatives of one of the priests that month. -the. They were later released.

A demonstration is planned for Monday to denounce the lack of security in the country.

“Political unrest, rising gang violence, deteriorating socio-economic conditions – including food insecurity and malnutrition – all contribute to the worsening humanitarian situation,” BINUH said in its report. . “An overstretched and underfunded police force alone cannot solve Haiti’s security problems.”

On Friday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the UN political mission in Haiti.

The kidnapping of the missionaries comes just days after senior US officials visited Haiti and pledged more resources to the Haitian National Police, including an additional $15 million to help reduce gang violence, which this year has displaced thousands of Haitians who now live in increasingly unsanitary temporary shelters.

Among those who met with Haiti’s police chief was Uzra Zeya, US Under Secretary of State for Civil Security, Democracy and Human Rights.

“Dismantling violent gangs is vital for Haitian stability and citizen security,” she tweeted recently.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.